Tag Archives: taste

A Crafty Future

There is a revolution going on in America.  It exists as almost a counter to the industrial revolution that drove this country forward a hundred years before it.  Craft artisans are taking over in the wake of a society that has been built by mass production.  As this revolution moves across foodstuffs, it is of no surprise that craft chocolate is currently on the rise.  However, it is important to understand why this revolution is taking place now, and some of the hurdles it must overcome to continue its success.

The Lay of the Land

Currently two chocolate companies, Hershey’s and Mars, account for over 50% of chocolate sales in the U.S. (Euromonitor, 2017). It should be of no surprise that these two particular companies own so much of the market share. They were both founded on the idea of bringing chocolate, which was previously a luxury treat, to the masses.  Milton Hershey was a pioneer in mass production, revolutionizing and streamlining much of the industrial process.  Hershey’s team discovered that by using condensed sweetened skim milk they could create a product with longer shelf life and that blended easily with cocoa powder.  This meant that not only could he ship his chocolate bars further, but lasting longer on the shelf meant less profit losses due to spoilage.  Hershey also looked at supply chain optimizations, investing in his own dairy farms and even building a sugar mill operation in Cuba, complete with its own railroad.  This allowed Hershey to control both the costs of commodities for his chocolate bar and the quality.  Mars, on the other hand, was more successful due to marketing than anything else.  His Milky Way bar (which originally sourced chocolate from Hershey) was more nougat than chocolate, making it larger on shelf and seem a comparatively good value to the Hershey bar. That said, both had the same result, taking an indulgence that was once almost exclusive to the wealthy and middle classes and democratizing it for every day enjoyment.

chocolate sizingMass production allowed for chocolate to be produced cheaper, allowing those savings to be passed on to the consumer – or more importantly, from a marketing sense, for them to outprice their competitors.  But while price is important, so are the products themselves.  While it may have taken a while for consumers to acclimate to the flavor of Hershey’s and Mars bars when they first came on the market, the particular blend of milk, sugar and other ingredients insured that they were universally palatable and they now exist as the template for what we expect chocolate to taste like.  Similarly, both companies have hero products that are specifically designed for easy consumption.  Both Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms were made for portability (individually wrapped/ melts in your mouth, not in your hand) and their small, poppable size makes it easy for consumers to lose track of mindfulness and eat large quantities in one sitting. These products have other advantages, as they are easily adaptable to innovation.  As consumers are desiring more variety and novelty across the board, these products have proven to be the most flexible in introducing new flavors – and easily acceptable to consumers who are familiar with their form and have built brand trust.  These companies have leveraged seasonality, larger cultural trends, and limited time offers to drive new product news and sales.

pumpkin(wait.  Is she wearing an infinity scarf and hipster glasses?)

So, if big chocolate is designed for palatability and companies are responding to consumers desires for more interesting, topical flavors, why are we seeing a proliferation of craft chocolate providers? When we look at the numbers, the story becomes more telling.   When looking at sales growth, mass chocolate has remained flat year over year (CSP daily news, 2016).  This despite their innovation and the fact that chocolate consumption overall is growing.  Instead, the growth seems to be predominantly driven by premium and craft chocolates, suggesting not just changing tastes, but a changing attitude about where our food is actually coming from.

Big Food Backlash

There is growing negativity towards giant corporations and conglomerates, particularly when it comes to food. From an economic standpoint, consumers have watched as these corporations get massive tax breaks which have translated into bonuses for the executive suite, while the working class continues to struggle.  While this issue impacts most major corporations, it is of particular concern when it comes to the chocolate industry and growing awareness around fair labor practices, forced labor, child labor and the ethical price people pay for their chocolate.  There is a lot of skepticism that these companies will make ethical choices when given the opportunity, particularly when people see so many examples in the news of them pursuing profits over people, such as Nestle bottling drinkable water in the middle of the Flint, Michigan water crisis (the guardian, 2017).  More and more often, buying in to big brands feels like an investment against your own interests.

The Big Middle creates more space for differentiation

The sheer nature of big brands as they fold in to one another may be working against them. “When you have increasing concentration of producers in the center, you leave room on the periphery for specialization,” says Elizabeth G. Pontikes, associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. (Shanker, 2017) In other words, these multinational conglomerates are creating their own sea of sameness.  In a society that is increasingly valuing individuality, particularly when it comes to the millennial and younger generations, brands and products that lack differentiation also lack appeal.  We can see this even in the most famous of branding cases, Coke vs. Pepsi with beverage drinkers now migrating to new choices like LaCroix and energy drinks.

The obvious choice might be for these mass chocolate brands to create verticals that touch these periphery spaces, but they have struggled breaking in.  Hershey’s introduced their Cacao Reserve premium line in 2006.  The brand lasted three years, suffered several price drops and the need for mass market advertising support, before they dropped it from store shelves. (Thompson, 2007) Their next move was to build their premium line using borrowed equity.  At the same time they launched Cacao Reserve, they purchased Scharfeen Berger, a premium line of chocolates out of California. As they pushed to mass market the brand, they switched suppliers, using cheaper beans from West Africa.  The result was severed relationships with brands like Whole Foods, who were concerned that Hershey’s could not guarantee that the beans weren’t sourced through child labor (Bloomberg, 2017).  The brand has somewhat rebounded, but the initial loss is still being recovered, and leaves the question as to whether or not big brands can ever play credibly in the premium/ craft space.

A wake up call for food

The obesity crisis in America was a wake up call about the food we consume and how it is being produced.  A series of films, articles and exposes, while at times misleading and ignores the true labor of food, caused people to rethink what they are getting out of processed food.  The consumer take-away was that mass produced food lacks quality and nutritional value, is predominantly artificial fillers, and is potentially detrimental to your overall health. Quality, whole ingredients, and care has become increasingly synonymous with healthfulness, regardless of traditional markers like fat and calories.

While all of these things make craft chocolate more appealing, it still has hurdles to overcome to convince people to pay the enormous price tag that comes along with it.

As noted, industrial chocolate is the baseline for people’s orientation to what chocolate should look and taste like, as well as what it should cost.  For Craft chocolate to succeed, they don’t just need to overcome the shift to premium pricing, they need to overcome expectations set by mass market chocolate.  There is a need to educate people on to the true value of the chocolate they are consuming and the difference that craft chocolate provides. There are four key ways in which craft offers a point of difference that both provides a difference that supports craft’s value proposition and requires consumer education: process, taste, ingredients and sourcing and ethics.

Understanding the process

Over time, manufactures have swapped out real ingredients for cheaper artificial substitutes such as vanillin instead of vanilla.  (Martin-Sampeck, 2016). This has impact on the flavor, consistency and mouthfeel of the chocolate itself. Craft chocolate’s smaller production model in of itself creates a different end product, but some companies have gone further, focusing on minimizing the process.

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Taza chocolate, a bean to bar company located in Somerville, MA, takes great pains to educate consumers as to their process.  They describe their bars as “chocolate with true grit.” Their mission is to return chocolate to its pre-industrial roots.  They believe that less processing allows for more complexity in flavors. Their chocolate is stone ground on hand carved molinos (mill stones) with little refinement between that and the end product.  The result is, to their description, a chocolate bar that lacks the smoothness that consumers have come to expect, but with a stronger chocolate flavor and more complexity in experience overall.

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Expanding your palate

“When most people eat a piece of chocolate we want that pleasure immediately: boom!  That’s the music of mass-market chocolate.” (Williams, 2012)

Historians have theorized (incorrectly) that when chocolate came to the old world, that it was appropriated to suit Europeans’ tastes (Norton, 2016).  In fact, chocolate’s evolution from its new world form to the substance we know today was a process that took over a century of innovation.  The chocolate that Europeans first enjoyed was a fairly close recreation of how it was consumed in Mesoamerica.  The Europeans had just acquired a taste for it.  That said, they had a lot of motivation to do so – chocolate was seen as exotic, a luxury (due to both its scarcity and use as currency), and had potential new health benefits.  Additionally, unlike today, there was no basis for comparison.  For today’s consumers, their palates have been educated in the world of mass produced chocolate – and what they have come to expect is a very sweet, creamy, almost single note experience.  Craft chocolate, on the other hand, leans in to chocolate’s bitter notes, and offers way more complexity.  Not only do consumers need to adjust to the new flavor profile, but they need help recognizing the flavor notes to truly appreciate the difference they are getting from craft.

Dick Taylor chocolates started in a small factory in Eureka, California by Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor.  They started their factory out of a love of craftsmanship and making things with their hands (both worked in woodworking and boat building).  In addition to educating consumers on the sourcing of their beans, they seek to educate consumers on how craft processing changes the flavor and experience of their chocolate.  From their website “by not cutting corners or taking shortcuts in our process we are able to leave out vanilla, additional cocoa butter or other emulsifiers, in hopes of capturing and highlighting the subtle flavor nuances in the cacao we source from around the world.”

In this they set expectations that their chocolate will be less sweet and have more complexity of flavors.  To further support that, their packaging calls out the specific flavor notes that the chocolate bar offers, much in the way that wine and craft beers call out tasting notes.

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XOCOLATL, a “micro-factory” chocolatier out of Atlanta similarly looks to highlight chocolate’s natural flavors.  Their bars are blended with spices and other elements that call out chocolate’s flavor components.  For example, their Americana bar contains no apples, but uses familiar pie spices to highlight that quality within the chocolate.

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Origin/ localization

While mass chocolate uses the blending of not only several different types of beans, but beans from multiple locations, there is a rising trend in single origin chocolate.  This has arisen both out of an increased interest in food provenance and small chocolate purveyors interest in highlighting the different unique flavor profiles of the beans.  (Norton, 2013) By doing so, they are able to not only show off the different flavor varietals, but capitalize on the exotic locales to add a sense of rarity and uniqueness to their product lines.

Amedei Chocolates, a craft company out of Tuscany, Italy, builds their sourcing education in to their product offerings.  Each of their bar product lines serves as an exploration in the difference that cacao content, origin and the beans themselves can make.  Their Toscano Black line offers three different (though relatively close) percentages of dark chocolate – 63%, 66%, and 70%.  Their cru product line is all single origin dark chocolate – allowing consumers to taste the subtle differences between each region.  But where they go one step further than many bars is to focus and educate consumers on the strains of cacao available.  They offer both a Blanco de Criollo and a Porcelana bar.  The external packaging on each features a botanical drawing of the bean.  The inside explains the history, origin and flavor notes.  For the Porcelana bar, it notes the Venuzuela plantation, it’s small production of only 3,000 kilos of beans, and the rarity of this particular strain. Tasting notes are described as “toasted almonds that alternates with pressed olives.” This reinforces the specialness of the bar and the unique experience that it offers, while simultaneously pushing the consumer’s palate to recognize more subtleties in flavor.

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Ethical Sourcing

One of the major challenges in the chocolate industry overall is the issue of labor practices and sourcing.  Even setting aside the more dire problems of forced and child labor, very little of the profits made from chocolate sales actually makes its way back to the farmers that grow it.  While there are a variety of certification schemes (i.e. Fair Trade, UTZ Certified, IMO Fair for Life), the cost of participating is high, and consumer demand has yet to drive a higher price in goods that can be translated back to the farmer. (Martin-Sampeck, 2016)  Additionally, there are those who don’t think that programs like Fair Trade go far enough, and result in a minimal profit increase for the farmer.

Companies like Taza and Askinosie chocolates instead have focused on direct trade, which cuts out middlemen and insures that more profits go back to the hands of the farmers.  Askinosie notes on their website “we hold the craft and quality of our chocolate in almost equal balance with doing as much good as we can in the world.”  As part of educating consumers at to the importance of direct trade, their bars feature the actual farmers that they work with on the front.  The back label tells that person’s story, how they became acquainted with Askinosie chocolate, and how their contribution insured the quality of the product you are holding.  It also features the following guarantee:  A stake in the Outcome. We guarantee to our farmers more than fair prices, open books and a share in our success.   In the way that they tell the story of their trade relationships, Askinosie doesn’t just insure the consumer of the ethics of their bar, they humanize it and translate that in to a real value to the consumer in the quality and craft of the final product itself.

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The future of craft

Craft still has some educational and orientation challenges to overcome, but as more and more people migrate away from big food and big chocolate, the opportunity to create a wider variety of chocolates leveraging ethical sourcing and quality ingredients remains as promising and sweet as the product itself.

Sources used:

Brenner, Joel. 2000. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 2007 (1996) The True History of Chocolate.

CPS News (September 15, 2016) Premium Chocolate Driving US Sales Growth.  CPS Daily News. Retrieved from:http://www.cspdailynews.com/category-news/snacks-candy/articles/premium-chocolate-driving-us-sales-growth

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams.

Glenza, Jessica. (September 29, 2017) Nestle Pays $200 a Year to Bottle Water Near Flint Michigan.  The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/29/nestle-pays-200-a-year-to-bottle-water-near-flint-where-water-is-undrinkable

Laudan, Rachel (May 5, 2015) A Plea for Culinary Modernism. Jacobin Magazine Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/slow-food-artisanal-natural-preservatives/

Leissle, Kristy. (2013) Invisible West Africa: the Politics of Single Origin Chocolate. Gastronmics: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13. No. 3 (Fall 2013)pp.22-31

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60.

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

Shanker, Deena (February 7, 2017) The Rise of Craft Chocolate. Bloomberg News. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate

Terrio, Susan J. 2000. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. pp. 1-65

Thompson, Stephanie. (March 6, 2007) Reservations about Reserve Haunt Hershey. Adage Magazine. Retrieved from: http://adage.com/article/news/reservations-reserve-haunt-hershey/115326/

Trout, Jack. Differientate or Die: Survival in our Era of Killer Competition. New York. Wiley, Second Edition 2008

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp.141-209

Yu, Douglas. (March 29, 2018) Lindt Will Most Certainly Come Back to Growth in US. Confectionary News. Retrieved from https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2018/03/29/Lindt-will-most-certainly-come-back-to-growth-in-US-says-Vontobel

 

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There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering?  A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience.  We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.

Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.

The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.

  1. What is Chocolate?

Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes.  Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed.  Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.

  1. Where Does Cacao Come From?

Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class.  Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.

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Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa.  Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao.  There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).

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West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)
  1. What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?

Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown.  After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).

Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price.  Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business.  Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).

In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).

The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor.  Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery.  With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.

Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children  are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will.  The child labor problems still exist today.  We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.

It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?

I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.

Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat.  The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law.  There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

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

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

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

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The  Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet.  A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.

Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.

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-

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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).

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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.

Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge: With Quality Chocolate, Price Is Not Important

The modern chocolate industry has been changed by the rise of artisanal chocolate makers, historically popular in Europe and newly popular in the United States. Small-scale chocolate manufacturing was seen as a response “to the perceived loss of flavor and quality in industrially manufactured chocolate,” (Martin & Sampeck 2016: 53). In contrast to the “Big Five” industrial chocolate companies—Nestle, Mars, Cadbury, Hershey’s, and Ferrero, (Martin & Sampeck 2016:50), artisanal chocolate makers are “unconcerned with producing identical bars with every batch” and “seek instead to draw out the unique flavors of the beans,” (Leissle 2013: 23). Because chocolate artisans are small-scale manufacturers, their products are primarily available at specialty stores.

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, I visited a gourmet grocer, Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge—the original of the Formaggio Kitchen family of stores, to examine their chocolate selection. Since it opened in 1978, Formaggio Kitchen has expanded to Boston and New York. From the chocolates of artisans to bean-to-bar chocolate makers (1970s -1980s) to craft chocolate makers (since the mid-2000s) (Martin & Sampeck 2016: 54), all chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen are categorized as small batch. In the chocolate industry, small batch chocolate making has highlighted chocolate and cacao’s “country of origin—the conditions of production” and “local […] tastes—the conditions of consumption” (Martin & Sampack 2016: 37). Through the curation of the chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen and the packaging of the individual chocolate bars, the importance of the conditions of production and consumption in small-batch chocolate making is echoed. The presentation at Formaggio Kitchen further suggests that the cost of these exceptional chocolate bars is secondary to their high-quality taste.

Initial Observations of the Chocolate Section

Upon finding the chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen, my attention was initially captivated by the store’s personalized notes in front of or near the numerous chocolate brands available. These notes described how the chocolate bars taste by highlighting any combination of notable ingredients, cocoa content, origin of the cacao beans, place of manufacture, or distinct production technique.

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Overview of chocolate section at Formaggio Kitchen on 5/2/2017. No information about the price of each bar is visible.

As a consumer accustomed to knowing the price of a product almost immediately after I see it on a store shelf, I was surprised find the absence of visible price tags. To know the price of the chocolate bars I examined at Formaggio Kitchen, I had to grab the desired bar off the shelf and turn it around. Of all that was emphasized about each chocolate bar, how much it cost was not. Based on the store’s choice to present their chocolate bars in this fashion, I concluded as a potential customer that price came secondary to taste, brand, cultural origin, and so forth.

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Overview of chocolate selection at Whole Foods on 5/2/2017. Represents the typical presentation of chocolate with a visible price tag at supermarkets in the U.S.
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Whole Foods presentation of chocolate contrasts that at Formaggio Kitchen where price tags are small stickers behind the chocolate bars and not as easily visible to the consumer.

Overall, I also noted the absence of familiar chocolates, including those from any of the Big 5 companies. In fact, I did not recognize the majority of the chocolate brands available at Formaggio Kitchen prior to my visit. The only brands I recognized were those Dr. Martin introduced during lecture (e.g., Dick Taylor, Potomac). Thus, my quest for knowledge about the chocolate selection at Formaggio Kitchen continued with my individual inspection of each chocolate bar and the content on its packaging.

Available chocolate brands (and flavors) at Formaggio Kitchen:

  1. Amedei (white chocolate with pistachios, milk chocolate with hazelnuts, Chuao)–$7.95 – $17.95
  2. Aynouse L’artesa (pure cacao, olive oil, fondant 65%, bitter orange, bitter 85%)–$7.95
  3. Chocolat Moderne —$8.95
  4. EHChocolatier (coconutty bar, peanut butter crunch bar) —$10.95
  5. Dick Taylor (brown butter with nibs and sea salt, black fig, fleur de sel, northerner blend) —$7.95 – $8.95
  6. Donna Elvira (pistachio, Modicana style, Pepperoncino, Mascobado, Cobaita) —$5.95 – $8.95
  7. Madre chocolate (coconut milk and caramelized ginger) —$11.95
  8. Marou (72, 74, 76, 78 single origin dark chocolate) —$2.95, 0.8 oz
  9. Mayana (kitchen sink bar, fix bar, space bar, haute and spicy–made specially for FK) —$8.95
  10. Poco Dolce (Assorted tiles, Aztec Chili tiles, Burnt Caramel tiles) —$23.95
  11. Potomac (San Martin 65 Milk, San Martin 70 dark + salt, 70 dark) —$8.95
  12. Pump Street Bakery (Rye Crumb milk & sea salt, Honduras bread and butter, sourdough and sea salt 66%) —$9.25
  13. Ritual (Belize, Fleur de Sel, Madagascar, Ecuador, Midmountain) —$7.95 – $11.95
  14. Romanengo Amaro (62% and milk) —$16.95
  15. Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (green spices & matcha tea in white chocolate with lemon oil, caramelized lavender flowers in milk chocolate with star anise, cardamom dark chocolate) —$10.95
  16. Somerville chocolate (lapsang souchocolate, hops infused dark milk, Nicaraguan 70%) —$9.95 – $11.95
  17. Taza (chocolate disks: vanilla, chipotle chili, guajillo chili, coffee, super dark, caca puro, cinnamon, salted almond) –$5.50
  18. Venchi (cremino fondente, chocolate cigars-orange and chocolate, aromatic cocoa, nougatine) —$10.95

In-Depth Analysis of the Chocolate Bars:

Colors and Images:

The majority of the chocolate bars at Formaggio Kitchen had higher quality, and often more elaborate, packaging than industrially produced chocolate. For some bars, the color of the packaging, black in the case of the Amedei Chuao bar, or the lettering, metallic in the case of the Maraou and Ritual bars, conveyed its premium status.

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In the case of Chocolat Moderne’s chocolate bars, the clear packaging made visible the vibrant colors infused in the chocolate bar. The intention behind the clear packaging is illuminated by Chocolat Moderne’s mission “to create visually stunning, hand-crafted confections […]” on the Meet the Chocolatier note featured at Formaggio Kitchen.
Supporting Chocolat Moderne’s aforementioned notion of chocolate as a medium of art, a Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé bar declared: “We don’t consider ourselves to be only bean-to-bar chocolate makers, but artists as well. We look at chocolate as an art material, and attempt to surprise and entertain out customers through our chocolates.”

Taza’s stone-grounding and use of chilis in their chocolate most explicitly identifies with the Mesoamerican cultural origin of chocolate and cacao (Norton 2006:684). As indigenous societies did, some of the chocolate bars, including EHChocolatier and Marou, glorified chocolate’s primary ingredient, through their inclusion of on the cacao pod on the package. Some bars, such as Madre, highlighted additional ingredients in their bars, such as coconut and ginger.

Place of cacao’s origin versus place of chocolate manufacture:

The place of manufacture of chocolate and the origin of its primary ingredient, cacao, are not always the same. While cacao can only grow near the equator, the manufacture of chocolate is not bound to any region.

Prior to the rise of industrial chocolate makers, such as Hershey or Mars, the practice of advertising the place of origin of the cacao beans used to make chocolate was common among European artisanal chocolate makers (Leissle 2013: 22). Over time, however, the place of manufacture overshadowed the place of the cacao’s origin as taste was linked to European national palettes (Leissle 2013: 23). Considering Europeans are the largest importers and processors of cacao and consume the most chocolate per capita in the world (Martin & Sampeck 2016:37), I was not surprised to find that chocolates manufactured in Europe were well represented at Formaggio Kitchen: Hungary (Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé); Italy (Amedei; Donna Elvira; P. Romanengo Amaro; Venchi); Spain (Aynouse L’artesa); United Kingdom (Pump Street Bakery).

For some European brands, the culture of the European place of manufacture was reinforced through the use of the corresponding language on the packaging (e.g., Amedei—Italian, Aynouse L’artesa—Catalan, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé-—Hungarian). The bars that included multiple language translations, such as English, on the package reflect how globalized the chocolate industry is.

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Although crafted in Saigon, Vietnam, the use of French (“Faiseurs de chocolat”) on the Marou chocolate bar doubly alludes to the bar’s French manufacturers as well as the history of cacao in Vietnam. France was the one to introduce cacao to Vietnam—the only Asian country represented in the Formaggio Kitchen chocolate section, in the 19th century (Marou Chocolate 2013).

Meanwhile, it was not until the turn of the 21st century that a significant number of small batch chocolate makers began to appear in the United States. Since 2005, “more than thirty fine flavor chocolate brands have been founded in the United States,” (Williams & Eber 2012:155-156). The chocolate bars crafted in the United States, grouped by their specific state of origin, included:

  • California: Dick Taylor, Poco Dolce
  • Hawaii: Madre Chocolate
  • Massachusetts: EHChocolatier, Somerville Chocolate, Taza
  • New York: Chocolat Moderne
  • Virginia: Potomac
  • Wisconsin: Mayana

Of the American craft chocolates, Madre chocolate highlighted its Hawaiian culture by featuring the Hawaiian word chocolate, or kokoleka, on the bar.

At Formaggio Kitchen, Donna Elvira, Madre chocolate, and Pump Street Bakery identified themselves as being bean-to-bar on their chocolate bars.

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For bean-to-bar chocolates, the flavor and quality of the chocolate bar is tied to their batch number, listed on the package. Although not pictured, Donna Elvira, Madre, Potomac, and P. Romanengo Amaro chocolate bars also listed their batch numbers. 

Ultimately, the place where the chocolate was manufactured was more heavily advertised than the place of origin of the cacao beans used. Among the chocolate bars that included the place of origin of the cacao beans, an underrepresentation of West African cacao was evident. In general, fine chocolate makers favor Criollo and Trinitario varieties, primarily found in the Central America and the Caribbean, over Forastero breeds, the majority of which are in West Africa (Leissle 2013:23). The gap is significant because 70% of cacao exports are West African, but only 4% of artisan chocolates use West African cacao.

Ingredients, Health Labels, and Social Awareness:

“Many of these US manufacturers may be small, but they have been driving recent changes for the better in the industry: Change the world—make better chocolate. They pride themselves on direct and transparent trade, paying top dollar for the best beans, speaking out against forced labor, investing in education, and making chocolate that tastes nothing like the multinational mass-market brands,” (Williams & Eber 2012: 156).

In response to growing consumer consciousness, many chocolate bars advertised the certified quality of their ingredients, health information, environmental concern, and social consciousness. Research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that demand for organic cocoa and chocolate has risen (Williams & Eber 2012: 197-198). In addition, fine chocolate makers have adjusted their products to meet the rising demand for lactose-free, sugar-free, and high-cocoa-content chocolate options from consumers (Williams & Eber 2012:185). Notably, some chocolate brands choose to explicitly label their dark chocolate as vegan and gluten-free even though dark chocolate, in general, is inherently vegan and gluten-free (Williams & Eber 2012:185). The following certifications and health-related labels were featured on some of the chocolate bars at Formaggio Kitchen:

  • Dairy-Free: Amedei, Marou
  • Gluten-Free: Amedei, Aynouse L’artesa, Marou, Potomac
  • GMO-Free: Poco Dolce
  • Kosher: Amedei
  • No soy lecithin added: Romanengo Amaro
  • Nut-free: Potomac
  • Soy-free: Marou, Potomac
  • Organic ingredients: Potomac (cacao); Ritual (organic cacao, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter), Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, cardamom)
  • Organic chocolate: Taza
  • Vegan: Ritual

As evidenced above, demands from consumers extend to the specific ingredients used in the making of chocolate. In contrast to an industrially produced chocolate bar, such as a Hershey’s bar, most craft chocolate bars have higher cocoa content and lower sugar content. I found that the purity of the chocolate bars is conveyed through the simplicity of their ingredients—no artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, or unrecognizable ingredients were listed on the small batch bars. Ritual and Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé also expressed environmental awareness through a “Please recycle” request and a “We support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International” sticker, respectively. Similarly, Taza advertises its participation in Direct Trade.

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Chocolate brands may choose to advertise multiple certifications to catch the range of concerns of consumers may have.

Lastly, a few of the chocolate bars asserted their quality taste through the inclusion of national and international awards: Chocolat Moderne’s (sofi Gold Award 2012, 2013); Pump Street BakeryInternational Chocolate Awards; Madre (Northwest Chocolate Festival 2014 Gold); and Mayana (Food and Wine Editors Top 10).

Concluding Thoughts:

In a study comparing taste preferences for different combinations of fat and sugar, 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat was deemed to be the most desired (Benton 2004: 214). Although the sugar content of chocolate tends to be higher than the ideal figure, the widespread attraction of chocolate can be attributed to how closely it resembles the fat-to-sugar content of foods perceived to be the best tasting (Benton 2004:214).

When it comes to optimal palatability, chocolate is nearly perfect. Because most chocolate tastes good by virtue of their composition, I asked one of the employees at Formaggio Kitchen about how their chocolate buyers choose the chocolates in their inventory. She shared, ” Our manager and chocolate buyer do a lot of tastings and attend the sofi awards. Often, when they travel, they’ll find something they like and we end up getting it. They are always looking for something unique and different.” Formaggio Kitchen’s personalized notes asserted the unique tastes of their selection of chocolate bars without attention drawn to the final price of the bar. Concurrently, the chocolate makers represented at Formaggio Kitchen presented the quality of their chocolate through ornate packaging, place of manufacture, origin of cacao beans, certified quality of their ingredients, health information, environmental concern, and social consciousness, and awards.

Still, one must be aware that the chocolate found at Formaggio Kitchen may be financially unsustainable or even inaccessible to average consumers. Most chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen cost anywhere from just under $8 to over $20. This price range is may be at least 8x the cost of $0.99 chocolate bars at convenience stores. Furthermore, because the selection of chocolates available at Formaggio Kitchen is not available at convenience stores or most supermarkets, the intended customer is one that is educated about the source of their food, willing and able to pay a higher price for their food, and interested in discovering unfamiliar food products. Therefore, while price may not be important when it comes to proclaiming the quality of chocolates at Formaggio Kitchen, it does matter when it comes to the accessibility of these small batch chocolates.

Works Cited

Benton, David. 2004. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” pp. 205-218.

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13 (3): 22-31.

Marou Chocolate. 2013. Published on Jul 20, 2013. http://marouchocolate.com/post/55951688118/history

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” pp. 37-60.

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

Williams, Pam and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.

An Interview with a Chocolate Lover: Issues within the Chocolate Industry Revealed

Curious about people’s relationship with chocolate, I interviewed a young female adult about how her relationship with chocolate has changed from childhood into adulthood. The interviewee has never learned about chocolate, but she alludes to various historical, economical, and social issues within the chocolate industry throughout the interview. Specifically, she raises ethical issues about cacao farming practices, and explicates how business transactions harm chocolate producers. The interviewee is a college-educated individual, and demonstrates significant knowledge about these issues presumably because of her enrollment in a course about the sociology of food. Based on her responses in the interview, it is clear that this course changed her relationship with food and influences her current food decisions. Through the interview, the interviewee illuminates glaring issues within the chocolate industry related to the production of cacao, exploitation of cacao farmers, and chocolate advertising. First, she raises issues that about the production of cacao by demonstrating awareness about the economic difficulties cacao farmers face, and by discussing logistical issues about certifications that attempt to combat those economic issues. Second, in describing her chocolate preferences and perceptions, she alludes to issues regarding chocolate marketing strategies, and demonstrates the immense influence that chocolate advertisements hold over consumer purchasing decisions.

Before evaluating the historical, economic, and social issues within the chocolate industry revealed by the interviewee, it is necessary to explain the similarities between cacao and coffee bean production. The interviewee learned about coffee production in a course at a prestigious university, so this section purposes to provide legitimacy to the issues she raises about cacao production by emphasizing that the coffee and cacao industries experience the same problems, thereby qualifying her arguments about coffee production as applicable to cacao production as well. First, the working and economic conditions of coffee and cacao farmers are almost identical. Most coffee farmers produce beans on small, family-owned farms, and live in poverty.[1] Coffee farmers typically rely on bean sales as their primary source of income, but it is extremely volatile because it responds to any fluctuation in bean market prices and sales.[2] Second, coffee farmers can obtain Fair Trade and Organic Certification. Fair Trade promises the same benefits to coffee farmers as it does to cacao farmers, including minimum price premiums, social development, better labor rights, and long-term trading partnership.[3] Third, a large gap exists between coffee producers’ farming practices and coffee consumers’ purchasing decisions. There are stark differences between farmers that produce specialty coffee, and farmers that produce conventional, non-certified coffee. Demand for specialty coffee is on the rise because consumers, particularly those that identify with the ethical eating, Slow Food Movement, are willing to pay more for certified, eco-friendly coffee.[4] Higher quality coffee beans are sold at a higher price in the market, but most coffee consumers are unaware of the implications of their coffee-purchasing decisions.[5] Lastly, similar to the chocolate industry, a few select big coffee companies – less than 10 – control more than half of the coffee market.[6] These similarities are important to recognize, as the interviewee recalls this knowledge in the interview, and subsequently reveals that the economic and social issues afflicting coffee farmers and production are the same issues that exist in relation to cacao farming and production.

coffee beancacao bean

Image 1: Coffee Bean                                                                             Image 2: Cacao Bean

The interviewee brings attention to the importance of the raw coffee bean product to the existence of the entire coffee industry. Through this observation, she emphasizes the complete disconnect between coffee production and coffee consumption, revealing that the same issue exists within the chocolate industry. The interviewee comments, “without the farmers, you wouldn’t have the product. They’re the ones creating the base product to make coffee. They’re often the most forgotten. That’s like with any food product.”[7] This remark deserves close evaluation, as it perfectly describes the fragmented functioning and separateness of the different sectors of the coffee industry, also applicable to the chocolate industry. With that remark, the interviewee astutely explains that these complex industries rely wholly on the raw product, the bean, and without which, coffee and chocolate might not exist. This comment is interesting because it offers a simplistic vision that connects the necessity of the raw product to the consumer industry miles and miles away. This perception also illuminates how coffee and chocolate consumers are highly unaware of the implications of their purchasing decisions on the economic livelihood of the producers. Pictured in images 1 and 2 are a coffee and cacao bean, respectively (Image 1 and 2). These visuals purpose as a reminder to consumers that the coffee they drink from Starbucks, or Lindt chocolate they eat from their local supermarket, are products that begin with coffee and cacao beans, harvested and cultivated by farmers. Production and consumption are inherently connected, however, farmers are often naïve about the final product and consumers are often uneducated about the raw product process, both of which exacerbate the separateness between different players within the coffee and chocolate systems.

USDA organic labelImage 3: USDA Organic Certification Label

The interviewee discusses logistical issues with the Fair Trade and Organic Certification protocols, revealing that these labels harm rather than benefit cacao farmers and production. Fair Trade, Organic, and Direct Trade certifications share a common goal to compensate cacao farmers that produce their beans in adherence to specific environmental and social standards at a higher price than the conventional market offers.[8] The United States Department of Agriculture divides organic products into three categories, “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients,” where each category is defined based on strict agricultural practice regulations.[9] Agricultural products that adhere to these standards are labeled with the “USDA Organic” logo, pictured in Image 3 (Image 3). In viewing this image, it is apparent that the USDA Organic label is not informative, as the certification seal does not specify whether the product is made with 100%, 95%, or at least 70% organic ingredients. The lack of information on this label raises questions about the authenticity of these certifications, and how organic certification guidelines are monitored. In probing about her knowledge regarding Organic Certification, the interviewee says “there are requirements…You can still use pesticides, but [the farmers] use “organic” or “natural” pesticides that are “better” for the environment…I know there are loopholes in the organic certification process.”[10] Here, the interviewee identifies the major criticisms of the USDA Organic Certification process in relation to cacao farming and production practices, alluding to claims of product quality issues and loose surveillance of organically certified cacao farmers’ adherence to USDA guidelines.[11] As revealed through her remarks, the vagueness of this label generates confusion among consumers. Furthermore, these observations illuminate the need for tighter institutional regulation of USDA Organic protocols, both for the benefit of consumers – ensuring that cacao farmers are following certification standards, guaranteeing that consumers are purchasing actual organic cacao – and for the benefit of the producers – that they are properly compensated for producing cacao beans using environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The interviewee circles the debate about the effectiveness of Fair Trade certification’s impact on cacao farmers’ economic situation through her advocacy for Fair Trade coffee bean farming and production. Similar to organic certification, Fair Trade certification encourages sustainable farming practices, while also promoting social welfare and establishing long-term trading partnerships.[12] In explaining the benefits of Fair Trade for coffee farmers, the interviewee says, “the farmers work long, laborious hours and they don’t get paid very well unless they are in the Fair Trade system…more money goes to the farmer when it’s a Fair Trade transaction.”[13] Through this comment, the interviewee reveals two similarities between coffee bean and cacao production that are problematic for the farmers. First, she describes the difficult working conditions that coffee bean farmers endure, such as long and physically fatiguing hours, and subsequently suggests that the farmers are underpaid considering their strenuous working conditions. She alludes to a prominent issue that cacao farmers face in that they are not properly compensated for their grueling laborious efforts, and that their contributions to the chocolate industry are severely under-valued. Second, she asserts that Fair Trade certified coffee farmers are more economically stable than non-certified coffee farmers, referencing minimum price premiums and prompt payments promised by Fair Trade to certified farmers. This suggests that consumers perceive Fair Trade as an impactful certification that improves farmers’ economic situation. However, in reality, there is no strong evidence that the Fair Trade system is effective in combatting farmers’ economic crises, particularly that of cacao farmers.[14] This misconception is problematic, as consumers’ might purchase Fair Trade products hoping to improve farmers’ income situation, unbeknownst to the faults of Fair Trade.

The interviewee explicates that some of her food decisions are based on the ethicality of food production practices, but names high prices of Fair Trade and Organic products as a barrier that prevents her from always purchasing certified products. In regards to the cacao industry, attempts to improve the ethicality of cacao farmers’ working conditions by consumer advocacy groups more often than not fail.[15] Chocolate consumers are often uneducated about the complexities of the chocolate industry, making it difficult for consumers to grasp how their purchasing decisions impact the economic and/or social situation of cacao farmers. Therefore, consumers cannot be responsible for initiating change of the exploitative economic and social conditions endured by cacao farmers. Surprisingly, the interviewee demonstrates a deep consciousness about the relationship between production and consumption, explaining that she became a vegetarian because “I don’t like the treatment of farm animals on conventional farms…Also, I don’t like the growth hormones and antibiotics.”[16] This reasoning suggests that she chooses the type of food she consumes based on the ethicality of food production practices. She further explains that she prefers to consume organic food, as “It’s more environmentally friendly.”[17] Again, she adopts an ethical argument to support her preference to consume organic over conventional farm products. However, she subsequently mentions that she does not always purchase certified Organic or Fair Trade products because they are “more expensive.”[18] This confession reveals a common misconception among consumers that certified products are always more expensive, which is false, as Organic and Fair Trade farming practices can actually cost the same or less than conventional farming practices.[19] Through her remarks, it is clear that the interviewee is a conscious consumer, as she chose to become a vegetarian because of inhumane treatment of animals on conventional farms, indicating her care for ethical farming and production practices. However, her perception that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade products are more expensive than non-certified products alludes to major critiques of certification organizations, commonly accused of corrupt practices and falsely promising cacao farmers fair payment. Through the interviewee’s comments, she illuminates a significant issue that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade are actually more harmful than beneficial to cacao farmers’ economic and social conditions.

woman eating chocolate     Image 4: Gender in Chocolate Advertisement

Through the interviewee’s description of her chocolate perceptions and preferences, she reveals an issue rarely addressed, that of the immense control chocolate advertisements exercise over consumer choice. Chocolate advertisements commonly portray chocolate as an aphrodisiac, and as a luxurious product, through women’s sexuality.[20] Image 4 exemplifies this theme, as it pictures a woman, seemingly wearing no clothes, holding a piece of chocolate to her lips, with a seductive facial expression (Image 4). The image portrays chocolate as a desirable food through the sexual presentation and nature of the woman. The brightly colored lipstick brings focus to her lips, and accompanied by the sensual facial expression, the ad attempts to associate chocolate with love and romance. Furthermore, the woman is highly manicured, adorned with extravagant accessories, which contributes to the depiction of chocolate as a decadent and highly valuable product. Several times throughout the interview, the interviewee references chocolate as a “luxurious item.”[21] This association of chocolate with luxury precisely demonstrates the strong influence of chocolate advertisements, such as image 4, on consumers’ perceptions of chocolate. When prompted to reflect about chocolate advertisements, the interviewee pauses and appears puzzled, admitting a moment later that she only notices chocolate ads around Valentine’s Day.[22] Again, this emphasizes the effectiveness of chocolate marketing strategies to portray the product as an aphrodisiac, as consumers evidently associate chocolate with romance and love. The combination of a presumably seduced woman and a chocolate product, exampled in Image 4, contribute to this representation of chocolate as desirable. Most importantly, the interviewee illuminates that consumers are highly unaware of two issues related to chocolate marketing. First, the strong influence chocolate ads possess in forming their perceptions of chocolate, and second, the exploitation of female sexuality to deliver this specific representation of chocolate products. Based on the interviewee’s susceptibility to the impact of chocolate advertisements on her perceptions, and her unawareness of gender exploitation that litters these ads, it suggests that the chocolate industry should be taking action to enforce regulations that will reduce the influence of chocolate marketing on consumer perceptions and regulate chocolate marketing content.

Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar     Image 5: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Product

The interviewee’s description of her chocolate preferences further demonstrates consumer susceptibility to the influences of chocolate advertisements. The interviewee reveals she favors dark chocolate, offering “I buy it at Trader Joe’s…I like the pure flavor of their products.”[23] First, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that advertises the sale of organic, natural, fresh food at low prices. Second, recall that the interviewee prefers organic food, but high prices prevent her from purchasing organic products. Keeping these two pieces of information in mind, the interviewee’s comment suggests that she purchases chocolate at Trader Joe’s because it is both organic and affordable. In addition to these conscious reasons, the packaging of the chocolate may also contribute to the interviewee’s decision to purchase dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, though she is unconscious of this influence. Image 5 exemplifies a dark chocolate bar product sold at Trader Joe’s, one that the interviewee might encounter (Image 5). This package exercises marketing strategies to influence consumer choice by emphasizing a high cacao content of “61%,” indicative of pure chocolate. Additionally, printing “Imported from Belgium” carries connotations associated with Europe, such as fantasy and romance. Lastly, the package pictures a crown, presumably representative of chocolate’s historical association with royalty in Europe. This suggests to the consumer that the chocolate is luxurious and highly valuably, and implies that the chocolate will taste rich and pure. All of these elements on the package impact the consumer’s decision to purchase that product by manipulating her perceptions, thereby prompting the consumer to imagine the chocolate will taste special over other chocolate products. Similar to an issue already discussed, the interviewee reveals that consumers are naïve to chocolate marketing strategies, and make unconscious purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of chocolate ads and their ability to influence consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate.

The interviewee reveals major historical, economic, and social issues that persist within the chocolate industry through her comments about coffee production, and in describing her chocolate perceptions and taste preferences. Historical issues, such as the under-recognized efforts of cacao farmers and their contributions that permit the existence of the chocolate industry – i.e. they provide the raw product to make chocolate – are evidently issues that exist within the coffee industry as well. Economic issues, such as volatile income and impoverished livelihoods, partially the fault of certification organizations like Organic and Fair Trade, are also issues within both the cacao and coffee industries. Lastly, social issues related to the use of sexualized images of women to control consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate are seemingly unnoticed by consumers. This is problematic in that consumers are unaware that these ads contribute to the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles, and in that consumers are also unaware that they possess little agency in their chocolate purchasing decisions.
[1] Christopher Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?,” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.
[2] Joni Valkila, “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.
[3] Valkila, “Fair Trade organic coffee.”
[4] Julie Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” in Food and Culture, ed. by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013), 496-509.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis.”
[7] Anonymous, interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.
[8] Carla Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).
[9] “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations,” USDA, accessed April 30, 2017, 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.
[10] Anonymous.
[11] Martin, “Alternative trade.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Anonymous.
[14] Ndongo Samba Sylla, “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe,” in The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
[15] Carla Martin, “Modern day slavery” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017).
[16] Anonymous.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin, “Alternative Trade.”
[20] Emma Robertson, “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption,” in Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009), 18-63.
[21] Anonymous
[22] Anonymous.
[23] Anonymous.

References

Anonymous. Interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.

Bacon, Christopher. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?.” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow.” In Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 496-509, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day slavery.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 29, 2017.

Robertson, Emma. “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption.” In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, 18-63, Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe.” In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye, London: Pluto Press, 2014.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations.” Accessed April 30, 2017. 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.

Valkila, Joni. “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap.” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.

Image sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_Beans_Photographed_in_Macro.jpg

Image 2: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/cocoa/

Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Image 4: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orofacial/8219609037

Image 5: https://chocolateihaveknown.wordpress.com/category/acquired/trader-joes/

 

 

An Experiment to Test Chocolate Preference

To test chocolate preferences, I conducted an experiment on my friends by having them taste a wide variety of chocolates. They didn’t know that they were part of an experiment. They were only told that I was holding a chocolate tasting as part of a course I was taking and I wanted them to rank their preference of each of 7 chocolates, or cacao nibs, from 1 to 7 (1 being the best). Three of my friends were not raised in America which provided some interesting information on the differences in chocolate preference between Americans and people from other parts of the world. Through my experiment I discovered how texture, Fair Trade or organic labels, gourmet or artisan labels, and the distinct taste of Hershey’s chocolate affected preferences.

In an attempt to set up a controlled experience with as little changing variables as possible, I decided to make all the samples I gave my friends look exactly the same. I melted down the 6 types of chocolate bars I bought and molded them using the brown mold pictured below. I did not want my friend’s preferences to be affected by product names or the shape/appearance of the chocolate.

2016-05-11 19.32.14

I presented the chocolates in the same way to everyone, as pictured below. The only noticeable difference between the chocolates was that the chocolate on the left side of the plate was obviously milk chocolate. I kept my samples in plastic bags with the original packaging, as seen in the picture, to ensure that I did not mix up the samples that now looked exactly the same. My friends did not see me set up the plates so they had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth about the chocolates they were eating during the tasting.

2016-05-11 19.39.18

I randomly assigned my 8 friends to two separate groups, Group A and Group B. Sometimes I switched two chocolates on the tasting plate for a particular group. This meant that as I was leading the tasting, I was telling one group that they were eating one type of chocolate when they were really eating another. I did this so I could see if what I said to them about the chocolates had any affect on how much they liked them. I gave each friend a tasting form and a tastes “cheat sheet,” pictured below.

2016-05-11 19.43.17

My cheat sheet was inspired by chocolate tastings done in class and Stuckey’s explanation of the five tastes: “… the only five tastes we Homo sapiens can detect using our tongue alone [are] sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami… These tongue sensations are known as the five Basic Tastes” (5). I gave my friends minimal information about the chocolate on the tasting sheets. I left a spot for them to rank the chocolates and another spot for them to write their general thoughts on the chocolate’s taste. As I led the tasting, I explained what any possibly unfamiliar words meant, like Fair Trade, organic, non-GMO, single origin, gourmet. Per recommendations from class, I had my friends taste things in order of highest cacao content to lowest. I decided to include cacao nibs in my tasting as an interesting difference from all the chocolate. I figured that most of my friends had never had cacao nibs so I was eager to see their reactions. The Cacao nibs are pictured below.

2016-05-11 19.40.13

From my friends’ reactions during the debriefing at the end of the experiment, they had no idea that I had lied about which chocolates I gave them. This leads me to believe that my data should be significant. Before I present my data, I will discuss each of the chocolates I used in my tasting, excluding the cacao nibs which I have already mentioned. I used two 80% chocolates which I switched for the groups. One of the chocolates was Taza’s 80% cacao and the other was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Panama with 80% cacao. The second line on my chocolate tasting sheet describes Equal Exchange’s chocolate while the third line describes Taza’s. I did not switch the fourth chocolate on my tasting sheet for the groups. This chocolate was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Peru with 71% cacao. Next I had Valrhona’s gourmet, single origin chocolate from Madagascar with 64% cacao (line 5) and Hershey’s dark chocolate (line 6). From my research, Hershey’s dark chocolate has approximately the same cacao percentage as the Valrhona chocolate I chose. Lastly, I gave the groups different milk chocolates with approximately the same percentage cacao. One group received Hershey’s milk chocolate while the other received a milk chocolate meant for chocolate fountains (pictured in the first image). Below are the rankings that my friends gave to each of these chocolates.

Cacao nibs: [2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7]

Taza: [1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7]

Equal Exchange 80%: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6]

Equal Exchange 71%: [2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4]

Hershey’s Dark: [1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Valrhona: [1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Hershey’s milk: [6, 6, 6, 7]

Milk fountain chocolate: [2, 4, 5, 7]

From my data, the fair trade, organic and single origin labels did not seem to have any significant impact on chocolate preference. There were varying preferences for the four chocolates that had these labels (Taza, Equal Exchange, and Valrhona). This is interesting given what I read about “Perceptions of the Fairtrade label”:  “thanks in part to the numerous sensitisation campaigns, the Fairtrade label has become increasingly well known. Likewise, the purchase of FT products continues to grow at enviable rates… 50 per cent of people are familiar with the Fairtrade label. Beyond this, various opinion polls also showed that consumers are increasingly aware of the potential consequences of their consumption rates” (Sylla, “The marketing success of FT: some figures). Sylla suggests that increased education about Fair Trade has caused an “enviable” increase in the sale of fair trade products. One can deduce that an increased sale means an increased preference. The ranging ratings of my friends for Fair Trade chocolates (Equal Exchange and Taza), suggest that there is not really a correlation between a chocolate having a Fair Trade label and a higher preference for that chocolate.

Another interesting result in my data was the general feelings about Taza chocolate. Taza chocolate is different from most chocolate because it is stone ground, with the end result of a higher particle size in the chocolate. Part of the reason that chocolate became more popular was the introduction of machines that could grind chocolate into smaller particles, which might explain why my friends did not generally like it. Only 2 of my 8 friends liked Taza, while 4 out of my 8 friends liked it the least of all the samples (including the cacao nibs). There was actually more general dislike for Taza chocolate than the “bitter” cacao nibs. 7 out of my 8 friends described it as “grainy,” “gritty,” or “powdery.” In my mind, these are not positive adjectives for chocolate. I believe it is safe to say that people tend not to like higher particle size chocolates.

One fascinating result from my experiment was the reactions to Hershey’s chocolate. D’Antonia describes how Hershey’s chocolate differs from other chocolates and played a large role in shaping the chocolate preferences of Americans: “Hershey’s milk chocolate… carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect… Anyone who knew Swiss milk chocolate… may have found Hershey’s candy unpleasant… Hershey’s milk chocolate… would also come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans” (108). The most striking result from my experiment was that 4 out of the 5 Americans chose Hershey’s dark chocolate as their favorite chocolate from the samples. This makes sense given what D’Antonio says, but it is particularly interesting given that milk is an ingredient in Hershey’s dark chocolate, unlike the other dark chocolate samples I tested. The non-Americans gave Hershey’s dark a lower rating (3, 5, and 5).

I included one expensive, gourmet chocolate in my tasting to see if there would be a general preference towards the chocolate. Williams and Beer explain that many consumers cannot recognize the improvements with gourmet or artisan chocolate, asking the question: “So, can consumers learn to slow down, taste, explore, and value the costly complexity of fine flavor?” (146). From my experiment, the answer to this question appears to be no. The very varied rankings of the gourmet chocolate indicate that my friends did not have any particular preference toward it.

Through my experiment I discovered that Americans and non-Americans definitely have different preferences for chocolate. Americans tend to prefer Hershey’s chocolate over other chocolates. Labels like Fair Trade and organic do not seem to have a significant impact on preferences but this might be due to lack of education. The particle size of chocolate also appears to play a big role in preference. Lastly, it is safe to say that people have not yet learned to appreciate the taste of more expensive artisan and gourmet chocolates.

 

Sources:

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126.

Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156.

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.

 

Multimedia sources:

All images were taken by me.

How Cacahuatl Became Chocolate

Many modern-day chocolate enthusiasts are surprised to learn that when the Spaniards first encountered Mesoamerica they were repulsed by the cacao-beverage of the native Aztecs. Due to its gritty texture and bitter taste, some even said it was more of a drink for pigs than humans and even barbaric, due to the sight of Aztecs with red-stained mouths as if they had been drinking blood due to their achiote-laced chocolate. Spanish aversion to drinking cacao eventually dissipated, partly due to the filling, nonalcoholic nature of the beverage and out of necessity. Having palates familiar with Old World flavors, the new settlers imported livestock such as cows and sheep as well as crops such as wheat, sugar cane, and peaches. The Maya and Aztecs used honey as a sweetener but had nothing close to the sweet tooth cravings of the Europeans. Not surprisingly, hybridization began to occur between the two cultures. An entire generation of Spanish Creoles born, and this was the context in which chocolate was eventually transplanted to Old Spain and the rest of Europe, which led to the introduction of chocolate to the European colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and around the world through trade. If the original Mesoamerican cacao beverage had not undergone extensive hybridization with European customs such as taste modification and linguistic changes, then chocolate as we know it probably would have never existed.

choco1

Imaginary scene of Aztecs creating chocolate, from John Ogillby’s America, of 1671. The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate, and has incorrectly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (Coe 113).

There is much debate concerning the origins of the word “chocolate”. In many old documents and letters chocolate is referred to as “cacahuatl”, (“cacao water”). One compelling reason for the linguistic switch among its white consumers is the reality that words and word roots in one language can become awkward and even offensive once transferred to a foreign cultural and linguistic setting. In most Roman languages, the word “caca” is a vulgar term for feces. (The term cacafuego—“shitfire” even appears in an early 18th century Spanish-English dictionary.) It is understandable why Spaniards would be uncomfortable with a word beginning with “caca” to describe a thick, brown drink they wanted to introduce to Europeans back home. One popular theory of where “chocolate” came from is the Maya word “chocol” and the Aztec word for water “atl”. It is safe to say if this name change had not happened, then the drink would have probably never become popular back in Europe, and without introducing the new methods of preparing and serving the drink, (i.e. the introduction of sugar), then chocolate would have remained a local delicacy of Central and South America among the native elites, not eventually a global phenomenon consumed by all social classes.

The chocolate drink was originally served as a cold, bitter, unsweetened beverage, probably in part due to the warm climate of Central America. The Spanish insisted on drinking their chocolate hot and regularly sweetening it with cane sugar, as well as replacing spices such as “ear flower” and the foreign chili pepper with more familiar flavors such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper. Europeans also needed to figure out a way that they could transport chocolate across the ocean on long voyages back to Spain; chocolate was too perishable. The Spaniards manufactured the finished beverage from a dried wafer or tablet of ground cacao that just needed hot water and sugar added to it. Guatemalan nuns may have invented this method, but Aztec warriors were also issued similar “instant chocolate” for sustenance during military campaigns. The Spaniards used these wafers as a convenient way to store and ship the cacao as a dried product, not unlike the instant hot cocoa we continue to drink today.

choco2

 

Image from nationwidecandy.com (2015)

And finally, the last change required in order for chocolate to become popular in Europe was its marketing. Unlike the sacredness and spirituality of chocolate in the Aztec context, in Europe it was marketed as medicine beneficial for all humoral temperaments (a desirable trait in the Baroque medical terminology of the time). Similar to other common drugs of the time (i.e. tea and coffee) the medicine became recreational, not unlike the Coca Cola phenomenon in the Americna South. All of these drinks engendered a craving for them by those who drank them, (due to their stimulant nature) and chocolate became a mainstream component of the European diet.

choco3

The Family of the Duke of Penthievre or The Cup of Chocolate by Jean-Baptiste Chapentier. (mystudios.com)

Ultimately, at the time Europe had the most widespread access to the majority of the globe through colonization. In order for the Europeans to have spread chocolate to their territories, they would have to had developed a craving for the beverage, which would not have happened if hybridization of the Mesoamerican beverage had not occurred through taste, language, and initial branding as a health food.

 

Citations:

Coe, Sophia D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson. 2007. Print. Chapter 4: Encounters and Transformation, Chapter 5: Chocolate Encounter Europe, pp.106-176.  

Chapentier, Jean-Baptiste. The Family of the Duke of Penthievre (The Cup of Chocolate). 1768. http://www.mystudios.com 20 Feb 2015

Dakin, Karen and Wichmann, Soren. Ancient Mesoamerica. Vol 11 Issue 1. Jan 2000, pp. 55-75.  http://dx.doi.org  08 September 2000. WEb. 20 Feb 2015. Abstract. 

Ogillby, John. America. 1671. Engraving. The True History of Chocolate. Coe, Sophie D., Coe, Michael D. 2nd ed. 2007. 113. Print.

Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows. online posting for sale. http://www.nationwidecandy.com. 20 Feb 2015

The Luxury of Taste: Chocolate, Capitalism, and the Commodity of Fine Dining

“Indulge,” urges the inside of my Dove chocolate wrapper, assuring me that I did the right thing, eating that chocolate. The idea of “indulgence” is key for how our American culture thinks about food, especially dessert, and it works on levels beyond the bag of dark chocolates I picked up at CVS. Dessert is an excess, by nature a luxury. So I thought, why not go for the best, why not go for real “indulgence”? What’s the fanciest dessert, the most chocolate pleasure that money can buy (on a student budget)? I decided to analyze some of the most “indulgent” desserts that I could find within walking distance of my dorm in Cambridge, MA: choc-finale  vs  choc-harvest When I signed the bill at the end of these meals, what did I pay for? I paid for the experience, not just the food. Yes, a crucial part of the entire experience was consuming a delicious dessert, but I also paid for the service, the comfy chair, the music, the low lighting and the conversation floating around me from the other tables. Chocolate and other dessert foods hold a precarious position between sustenance and luxury. Chocolate is more universal, more sustaining and more widely available than real luxury consumables like wine and even coffee, and it does not share their psychological effects, despite common misconception (Benton, 213- 214). However, chocolate is more luxurious and extravagant than staple products like bread, meat, or rice. Chocolate tends to be sold as either luxury or staple, when in fact it occupies a space between the two that does not fit well in capitalist consumption practices. This essay will focus on chocolate dessert as a luxury by looking at the American fine dining experience, in order to show that the most elite consumers experience chocolate differently than the rest of society, because of how the experience becomes a commodity.

My first trip took me to Finale, a specialty dessert shop with three Boston locations. Finale strives to separate itself from mass produced chocolate and give the fine dining experience at a lower cost. Their sit-down restaurant features red table clothes, a prominent wine list, low lighting and soft jazz music. When I went in late on a Monday night, the restaurant housed me and three young couples that appeared to be on dates. The waiter couldn’t tell me the source of the chocolate in the “molten cake,” but he did tell me that in his three days working at Finale, he had learned that there were more different kinds of pastries than he had previously imagined.

“Just look how much of our menu is dessert!” he told me. Finale capitalizes on the desire to indulge in dessert. By offering a wide array, it allows consumers the luxury of choice, and while someone of middle-class means might not want to buy a fancy dinner, they might be persuaded to splurge on an indulgent dessert. Scholar Marcy Norton describes the “cultural-functionalist” model, proposed by historians such as Mintz and Bourdieu, as one theory for the popularity of chocolate in Western society. The theory states that those in power influence aesthetic and subjective decisions, or choices of taste. Under this theory, the upper classes are the tastemakers, and other consumers follow their lead. Norton does not believe that the theory is enough to explain the dessert’s popularity, but it does explain restaurants such as Finale, which sell the upper class experience at a lower price (Norton, 633). Finale’s menu describes the cake I ordered as “Our famous baked to order molten filled with a salted honey caramel sauce. Served with chocolate covered almonds and dulce de leche gelato,” and then lists a suggested wine pairing (Finale, Restaurant Menu). By pairing each dessert on the menu with wine, the restaurant again ties its products to other luxury goods, and sells a greater experience: not just the dessert, but the wine and cake together. I ordered (just the cake) and was quickly rewarded with the elegant presentation in the picture above. Typically, I would wolf down a dessert like this, loving the sweetness without focusing on the flavor, but for the first time in my dessert-eating career, I sat down to really evaluate the flavors and sensations of eating.

“Tasting,” in an evaluative way requires time, money, and knowledge. One must be taught to discern flavors and focus on all the senses while eating. Barbara Stuckey, a food tasting professional, published “Taste What You’re Missing,” a guide to tasting and understanding food like the experts. To those people with fewer taste buds who are less able to discern different flavors, she adds, “You can’t change the anatomy of your tongue, just as you can’t change your genetic makeup or height. But a height limitation doesn’t mean that you can’t teach yourself to be an excellent basketball player. And everyone-including you-can teach himself to be an excellent taster” (Stuckey, 27). Stuckey seems to say that anyone can learn to taste the way that she can, regardless of biological limits, but she doesn’t mention other limits, like time, energy, or lack of resources. Her book describes eating at some of the fanciest restaurants in the US, appreciating food like salmon, steak, and “soft, cherry-chocolate red zinfandel” (Stuckey, 15). Clearly, Stuckey has the resources to get the best food to taste recreationally, and also as a professional taster has spent years being paid to hone her tasting skills. Her book targets those given choices of what kind of food they eat, rather than needing to get the most sustenance per dollar.

Chocolate Tasting Wheel from “Chocopolis”

This “tasting wheel” for chocolate describes the flavors that a trained, discerning taster might be able to pick up in a bar of the stuff. These are the elements of a luxury chocolate bar, not mass produced chocolate from big companies like Hershey’s or Nestle. Mass produced chocolate is sold to everyone, and there’s much less focus on flavor profiling or ingredients beyond “tastes good.”

Snickers’s ad campaign is a good example of chocolate sold to a wider set of consumers. Notice that it focuses on the bar’s ability to satiate hunger rather than its artistic combination of flavors

 

The cake I tasted at finale seems to fall somewhere in the middle of the taste- satiation spectrum. Based on its presentation and the restaurant’s atmosphere, Finale seems to focus on the upper class experience of eating. I did find out online that the chocolate they use in the cake is from Valrhona, a French luxury chocolate maker. You can see from Valrhona’s website that the company focuses on many of the elements of luxury dining that Stuckey emphasizes. The company even includes a “how to taste” section, focusing on incorporating all of one’s senses into the “art of tasting”. “Chocolate is enjoyed.” Reads the page,  “Grand Chocolat is experienced” (“Experience Our Expertise”). However, the dishes at Finale were engineered for an audience where fancy desserts are the exception, not the norm. While the cake I ate was sweet and delicious, the textures were somewhat muddy and indiscernible, and the flavors advertised, chocolate, sea salt, and caramel, were not very strong or balanced. The main tastes of the dish were sugar and fat, and the wafer on top was burnt. Perhaps my favorite part of the cake was the slice of pure Valrhona dark chocolate sticking out on top. The focus of this dessert on quantity of sweetness over quality of flavor, on filling the stomach over exciting the palate, seems to suggest catering towards mass marketed tastes.

My second dessert experience, however, was true fine dining. Harvest restaurant is staffed by award-winning chefs (including their pastry chef, Brian Mercury). Its price range is much higher than Finale. Compare $15.99 Short Ribs, the most expensive thing on the Finale Menu, with $40 Painted Hills Farm New York Striploin au Poivre at Harvest. The restaurant is tucked away behind other clothing stores, and despite sitting less than five minutes from my dorm, I never saw it until I went looking for it. Unlike Finale, the feel of Harvest is much more elite, and this is also reflected in the clientele. When I was there, the patrons were all much older than those at Finale, and seemed to be engaged in business meetings. Part of the experience of fine dining is the feeling of exclusivity, the experience of sharing space with those also in this elite group. Notably, the dessert that I ordered at Harvest, which was comparable in size and ingredients, actually cost me a dollar less than the cake at Finale. The price difference here shows that Harvest focuses more on dinner than dessert. That does not mean that the focus on sustenance at Harvest, and luxury at Finale. In fact, both restaurants sell luxury and indulgence, but Finale does so through luxury products and a luxurious atmosphere, while Harvest uses the principles of flavor and taste to turn any food into an extravagance. For example, at Finale, all the dishes are named in English, directed to a larger American public, instead of the complicated French terms that Harvest assumes its exclusive customers can understand.

Furthermore, the taste of chocolate, caramel and salt in the Crèmeux were very different than in the molten cake. Their online menu describes the dish as “house made sea salt, salted caramel brown sugar granola, milk chocolate malt sauce, vanilla mascarpone” (Harvest, Dessert Menu). The flavors in Harvest’s Crèmeux were much more intense, especially the bite of the salt, which balanced out the sweetness of the chocolaty mousse. The textures in the Harvest dessert were also more complex and provided a contrast to each other: the crunch of the granola, the almost fudgy Crèmeux, and the chewy caramel. The textural changes helped draw my attention again to the flavors, to really savor and think about what I was eating. I think it took me longer to eat that Crèmeux than any dessert I’ve had before. Intense flavors are often a sign of fancier or upper class food options, instead of the more “bland” food of the masses. Stuckey makes fun of her partner for his limited palate and preference for mild flavors. “How can you call yourself a foodie” she asks, “when all you eat is meat and potatoes?” (16). Although she learns to appreciate the subtlties of his palate, it remains a common conception that someone more sophisticated, elite or worldly would prefer bold flavors to analyze.

The Harvest Crèmeux follows the “local food” trend prevalent in high-class establishments. Local food and fair trade are relatively recent developments in the food world that highlight and attempt to close the gap between producers and consumers. Brian Mercury locally sources his on ingredients, even takes trips out to the seashore to collect his own salt, effectively controlling every step in the production of the food (Gelsomin).

The chocolate in the Crèmeux comes from Taza chocolate, a company that produces stone ground chocolate from direct trade beans in South America. Just as much of a luxury as Valrhona, Taza produces chocolate on a smaller scale with even more attention given to  the experience of consuming the chocolate both in terms of taste (the texture of stone ground chocolate is very distinctive) and ethical purchasing (local and direct trade options make consumers feel better about their purchase). However, this means that it’s difficult to get large amounts of these ingredients, further contributing to the exclusive nature of Harvest and its food.

These movements grow out of the history of the commodities that make up the distinct flavors in the desserts: chocolate, sugar, and salt. Historians Sophie and Michael Coe wrote The True History of Chocolate, describing how it served as a luxury, sustenance, or medicine throughout the Americas and Europe. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz analyzes the history of sugar as a commodity in Sweetness and Power, and the crop’s ties to forced labor and colonialism. A group of Italian scientists wrote a “History of Salt” that ties the spice’s medical properties to its long history through cultures and conflicts. Each ingredient provides its own enticing properties as a food historically consumed in great amounts, for reasons as diverse as biology or cultural-functionalism. Food can never be a simple commodity because of its essential nature; we all need sustenance through food. These three ingredients have long, elaborate but mostly unknown histories that shape how Americans today view them as commodities.

All of this leaves us with food as a divisor in society, even though it is one thing that all people have in common. Food scholar Charles Z. Levkoe discusses the “commodification of human relationships” in regards to selling food, explaining how all people can be reduced to consumers under capitalism (Levkoe, 587). His ideas relate to the commodification of the chocolate experience: everything can be sold, not just objects. Economist Robert Albritton goes further and describes the history of food entwined with the history of capitalism, which today “promotes both hunger and obesity while at the same time undermining the earth’s capacity to support us,” (Albritton 350).  When one tastes food, they are experiencing it in a fundamentally different way than someone who simply eats food. Additionally, food as commodity to be tasted, experienced, enjoyed, is a primarily reserved for the upper class.

Consumers are sold the act of indulging in these chocolate and fancy desserts. Americans are trained by advertising and by other members in society to want these experiences. If you’re mouth isn’t watering at the end of this essay, then I haven’t done a good enough job with either pictures or description of how delicious those desserts were. It’s because of the social and mental experience of eating it, not inherent properties of the food itself, that chocolate is associated with craving, guilt, and other psychological effects (Benton, 213-214). Due to its long history as an elite product, chocolate is a food on the edge, with some inherently luxurious properties.  Because of this, it can be an “indulgence” even as a mass-produced product. However, the luxury of taste, the full sensual experience of fine dining is reserved for the upper class, and this extends to chocolate as well. Capitalism creates divides in society even in regards to food, and chocolate, which seem to be boundary crossers, by commodifying the seemingly intangible. When we walk into a restaurant, we’re sold more than just a dessert.

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Works Cited 

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.”Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. By Astrid Nehlig. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2004. 205-18. Pdf. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Círillo, M., G. Capasso, V.A.D. Leo, and N.G.D. Santo. “A History of Salt.” American Journal of Nephrology 14 (1994): 426-31. Google Scholar. Web. 7 May 2014.

“Experience Our Expertise.” How to Taste. Valrhona, n.d. Web. 07 May 2014. <http://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/shop/How-to-taste.php&gt;.

Finale, Restaurant Menu. Cambridge, MA: Finale, 2014. Print.

Gelsomin, Emily. “The Ocean’s Gold– Salt.” EdibleBoston, n.d. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://edibleboston.com/the-oceans-gold-salt/&gt;.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf.

Harvest, Dessert Menu. Cambridge, MA: Harvest, 2014. Food & Wine. Web.<http://harvestcambridge.com/food-and-wine/dessert/&gt;. Levkoe,

Charles Z. “Learning Democracy Through Food Justice Movements.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 1997. 342-52. Pdf. Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Pdf. Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. New York: Free, 2012. Pdf.