Tag Archives: Theobroma cacao

Taza and Theo: An Investigation of Ethical Chocolate Making

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Recent years have shown the chocolate industry to be riddled with alarming socioeconomic and ethical dilemmas spanning from child labor to racial prejudice and sexism (Berlan 1089-1090). The interwoven issues facing the chocolate industry are daunting and suggest that chocolate cannot be divorced from the web of exploitation that often follows in its wake.  While large chocolate companies like Hershey’s and Mars continue to dominate the industry despite suffering harsh comments from critics, some chocolate companies have taken up the challenge to produce and sell chocolate while intentionally pursuing ethical practices. This investigation takes a look at two small chocolate companies: Taza Chocolate and Theo.

The Companies

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Taza Chocolate

“We make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all.” 

Taza Chocolate is located in Somerville, Massachusetts and specializes in stone ground chocolate. Taza was launched in 2005 by founder Alex Whitmore and his wife and brand manager, Kathleen Fulton (Taza Chocolate). Whitmore was inspired to produce stone ground chocolate after traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico where he had his first taste of the delicacy and became the apprentice of a molinero to learn how to master the production technique. Taza describes itself as “a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing” and hails itself as the “first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program” (Taza Chocolate).

Theo Chocolate

“As a company rooted in cocoa, our mission is to help create a beautiful, compassionate and enduring world by responsibly making delicious and inspiring products for everyone.”

            The Theo cholocate company is located in Seattle, Washington and was founded in 2006 by Joe Whinney. Theo prides itself in being the first “run of organic chocolate” made in the in the United States (Theo Chocolate). The founding of Theo was the legacy of Joe Whinney’s passion for making a difference in the injustice and exploitation he witnessed as he traveled Central America and Africa during the 1990s. Per Theo, their chocolate is crafted with “only the purest ingredients grown in the most sustainable way possible” to meet the “highest standards for organic, Fair Trade, and Fair for Life, organizations which promote equitable trade practices for small farmers abroad (Theo Chocolate).

 

Tackling the Dark Past of Chocolate

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The Problem: Transparency

Although the grim realities of the chocolate industry have been revealed in recent years, the lucrative field is still shrouded in mystery, as many chocolate companies are not forthcorming with the inner workings of their firms. The issue of transparency extends to many foreign governments which are vague and negligent about the treatment of poor cacao laborers in their countries. Taza Chocolate and Theo endeavor to increase their transparency by providing information on their sourcing, bean to bar technique, and certifications.

Taza Chocolate is open to vistors seven days a week to tours and visits. Taza provides a team of “chocolate guides” who are always savailable to answer questions about the companies process and mission (Taza Chocolate). Taza also hosts community events such as its annual Taza Chocolate Block Party, which features food, music, and art. Taza annually posts a “Transparency Report” on its website, which provides import figures for the years production and features the names of specific farmers the company works with (Taza Chocolate).

Theo Chocolate also offers tours, which provide not only a glimpse into its factory and processes, but teaches visitors about the social and environmental issues relation to cacao and cacao farmers. Theo allows its visitors to witness the company’s chocolate making techniques and provides events ranging from children’s classes to chocolate and tea pairing classes (Theo Chocolate). The welcoming atmosphere advertised by the two companies encourages customers to not only visit but engage with the intricacies of the companies’ chocolate making processes. Theo publicizes its pricing guidelines and claims to strive for “all the cocoa farmers they do business with” to taste the chocolate made from their beans. The transparency of these companies keeps customers informed and holds the companies to their commitment to organic and fair chocolate.

 

The Problem: Sourcing

            The sources from which chocolate companies obtain their cacao is a hot topic of debate because of issues such as child labor, slavery, and the exploitation of small farmers. Many of these workers receive unfair wages, work in harsh conditions, and cannot send their children to school. The discourse on sourcing has been significant for over a century, featuring key figures such as William Cadbury, founder of Cadbury Chocolate. In the earlier 1900s, Cadbury encountered trouble in of Sao Tome, an island from which his company obtained cacao beans despite the regions use of slave labor (Satre 19). Cadbury grappled with the issue of slave labor throughout his career, and today Cadbury chocolate is still a key player in the chocolate industry. Unlike the early, unethical history of Cadbury, Taza and Theo both claim to ethically source their chocolate and pay fair prices.

Taza Chocolate sources its cacao from its “Grower Partners” in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Haiti. Taza provides a detailed profile for each of its cacao producers which featues information including the country region, number of farmers, duration of partnership, tasting notes which contribute to the terroire of their chocolate, history of the region, and pictures of the farmers with Taza employees (Taza Chocolate). The through information Taza provides truly puts faces to the names of the farmers and displays Taza’s direct and personal engagement with their cacao producers.

Theo Chocolate currently sources its cacao from Peru and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Theo also publicizes the sources of some of its other ingredients, such as their Hazelnuts from Turkey and coconuts from the Philippines (Theo Chocolate). Like Taza, Theo regularly visits its cacao suppliers. Theo directly negotiates prices with its suppliers and provides training on suitable agricultural practices. With its model, Theo claims that farmers know how much income to expect from their harvests. While Theo provides the names of its two suppliers, the Norandino Cooperative in Peru and Esco-Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Theo does not provide the same detailed supplier profiles as Taza.

From “Bean to Bar”

Both Taza and Theo outline Theo outline their chocolate making process. Taza’s process moves from roasting to stone grinding in molinos, to preparing the final product. Theo’s process spans from sourcing fine cacao beans to, to conching, to wrapping the finished product—a bean to bar endeavor.

The Problem: Certification

Taza utilizes its own fair trade certification, known as Taza Direct Trade Certified Cacao (Taza Chocolate). Per Taza, this certification does away with “predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices” (Taza Chocolate). Taza Direct Trade guarantees face to face relationship with producers who respect the environment and fair labor. Taza claims its producers provide the company with the best organic cacao and that it pays farmers prices significantly higher than Fair Trade, including a 15 to 20 percent premium.

Theo Chocolate operates under the Fair Trade system. Fair Trade is an international system that awards certifications which ensures that producers have paid a price to enable positive economic growth for the individual and their region (Theo Chocolate). Fair trade claims that its farmers are better able to provide their families with sufficient nutrition and access to healthcare and education.

Theo’s operations are covered under the Fair for Life Fair Trade certification. This certification means that a third party analyzes the company’s operations and keeps it accountable to the Theo commitments to labor and working environments. This specific qualification certifies ethical labor conditions along the entire supply chain, in particular no forced child labor (Theo Chocolate).Theo claims to earn high scores and demonstrate improvement each year. In addition to its Fair Trade certification, Theo chocolate is USDA organic, Non GMO Project verified, and kosher.

While the certifications of Taza and Theo represent a huge step towards fair chocolate production, the certification systems are not without faults. Fair Trade has been criticized for the limited reach of funds in the developing world, as many small farmers do not actually receive the extra funds from the premiums paid by companies (Sylla 90-91). This problem is exacerbated by the extra fees farmers must pay to participate in the program, and the collateral issue of other farmers who lose competition by not participating in the program. Direct trade is viewed as an alternative to the Fair Trade system, promoting direct communication and price negotiation between cacao buyers and farmers. However, Direct Trade also receives criticism for its limited reach and the fragile, temporary relationships that often exist between buyers and sellers. However, the advertising of Taza and Theo claims to combat these shortcomings by advertising the close relationships between their companies and their cacao producers.

The Problem: Advertising

            Advertising in the chocolate industry is often rife with gendered and racialized stereotypes and tropes, with are only perpetuated by the widespread industry (Leissle 126). An example of such advertising, is the Dove chocolate commercial pictured below. In the ad, a woman experiences a tantalizing sensual experience as she consumes the dove chocolate. The appears to primarily target women, who will seek to emulate the experience of the women in the commercial, while others, primarily men, with be attracted by the sexualized overtones of the ad.

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Dove Commercial

 

Taza’s advertisement focuses almost entirely on their chocolate making process. Taza does not exploit the tropes so often relied on by other players in the chocolate industry. Instead, Taza chooses to provide a glimpse into the bean to bar chocolate production process the company boasts so proudly.

 

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Taza Chocolate Advertisement
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Early Theo Chocolate Advertisement. This video features a message from the company’s founder and describe their commitment to ethical practices.

Today, Theo primarily advertises through its website and the images it features. However, the video above advertises Theo’s win of the title “Heart of Seattle”. The video praises the community values and environmental mindfulness of the company since its founding in 2006. Like Taza, the Theo Chocolate advertisement focuses on the unique qualities of the company, rather than stereotypical advertisement techniques.

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Theo Chocolate Advertisement

Granted one must acknowledge that Taza and Theo are both small companies whose ads are not televised, thus their motives and techniques are slightly different than that of a major company like Dove. Nevertheless, the focus of their websites and publicity are on the good-naturedness of their chocolate and production techniques.

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With the prevalence on exploitive and secretive chocolate companies, Taza Chocolate and Theo are a refreshing break from the saddening trends. The two small companies truly engage with the chocolate making process from the bean all the way to the bar, functioning on a primarily local rather than global scale. Theo and Taza exemplify the beginning of ethical practices in the chocolate industry, although the industry still has a long way to go before it is equitable for all.

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Works Cited

“About Taza.” Taza Chocolate, http://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza.

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on

Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol.

     49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.

“Dove Chocolate Commercial – Senses.” YouTube, 6 May 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?

      v=SwPwQ4S4op8.

“Home – Spring 2018.” Theo Chocolate, http://www.theochocolate.com/.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate

Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, 2012, pp. 121–139.,

doi:10.1080/13696815.2012.736194.

“Our Story.” Theo Chocolate, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/our-story/.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio

Univ.Press, 2006.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio

University Press, 2014.

Taza Chocolate, director. Taza Chocolate “Bean to Bar.” Vimeo, 8 Dec. 2011,

vimeo.com/33380451.

Theo Chocolate, director. 2018 Heart of Seattle Winner – Theo Chocolate. 18 Apr. 2018,

vimeo.com/265462354.

Theo Chocolate, director. Theo Chocolate. YoutTube, 27 Mar. 2009,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQZLAKq6LgM.

 

 

A New Cacao History? A Differing Narrative of Cacao Beverages in Pre-Colombian America

While chocolate for most people in the United States gathers images of candy bars, delicious desserts, or even hot cocoa, many are also aware of the more traditional style of cacao beverage produced traditionally in Mesoamerica. These early chocolate beverages made from the traditional process of fermenting the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, drying these fermented seeds, grinding them, and finally adding water to the ground seeds to form a thick beverage are almost omnipresent in Mesoamerican cultures (McNeil 2009).

Modern equivalent to a traditional cacao beverage, with cacao beans around the mug and a cacao pod in the background.

The earliest discovered vessels containing chemical residue of cacao date back to 600-400 B.C.E. from Belize (Dreiss and Greenhill 2008). Traditionally, academics assumed that Theobroma cacao tree was initially cultivated by humans in order to create the type of beverage described above which involves the lengthy process of fermenting, grinding, and mixing the cacao seeds with water.

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Theobroma Cacao with cacao pods

Prominent chocolate scholars Sophie and Michael Coe employ this argument to support the hypothesis that Theobroma cacao was first cultivated in Mesoamerica, rather than South America, as the chocolate beverage described above was highly prominent in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, while in Pre-Columbian South America, this drink was absent (Coe and Coe 1996). However, when examining other traditional Mesoamerican and South American uses of comestibles of the Theobroma Cacao tree, a new theory for the initial cultivation of Theobroma Cacao may emerge (Joyce and Henderson 2006).

 

(Video demonstration of the cacao grinding process into a modern cacao drink below)

While the traditional processed chocolate drink described above may have been prominent in Mesoamerica, other traditional beverages using products from Theobroma cacao were extremely common across both Mesoamerica and South America as well. Although many different types of foods and beverages were produced, one that may shed light on the origins of the multi-step traditional chocolate beverage creation process and the initial cultivation of Theobroma cacao is an alcoholic beverage derived from the fermentation of the pulp and seeds found inside cacao pods referred to as “chicha” (Joyce and Henderson 2006). While this alcoholic drink is typically associated with pre-Columbian cultures in South America, and the nonalcoholic processed chocolate beverage discussed initially is associated with pre-Columbian cultures in Mesoamerica, there is evidence to suggest that alcoholic drinks made from fermenting the pulp of cacao pods were produced in pre-Columbian Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerica as well (Joyce and Henderson 2006).

(Video demonstrating the cacao pulp fermentation process)

As such, the discovery of the production of chicha may paint a new picture for the initial cultivation of Theobroma cacao. It does not make intuitive sense to reason that Theobroma cacao was initially cultivated to make the non-alcoholic chocolate beverage, as it is complex lengthy multistep process without clear initial benefits. It makes more sense to hypothesize that the traditional ground nonalcoholic beverage may have arisen out of the byproducts of brewing chicha, as chicha is a necessary byproduct of creating the nonalcoholic traditional chocolate beverage (Joyce and Henderson 2006). This narrative points to the initial cultivation of Theobroma cacao in order to make chicha. The benefits of the fermentation of the seeds would have then become discovered as a byproduct of the fermentation process to make chicha. In fact, the fermented cacao seeds may have then been eaten as a source of dietary fat, similar to how palm seeds were eaten in Mesoamerica for their rich fat content (Joyce and Henderson 2006). Additionally, cacao seeds would have been impossible to separate from the pulp prior to fermentation due to the gluey texture of the cacao pulp.

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Early Olmec pottery cacao vessels found at San Lorenzo

 

This new narrative of the non-alcoholic chocolate drink arising out of the chicha fermentation process possesses further implications for the history of cacao in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. There is widespread evidence of the ritualized nature of serving cacao as a means of social performance (Dreiss and Greenhill 2008). The serving of the traditional cacao beverage utilized special serving and preparing vessels across Mesoamerica. Later pottery vessels from the post classic period (1000-1521 C.E.) are designed with a flared neck in order to facilitate frothing when pouring into cups, a necessary step for the traditional cacao drink to suspend the ground seeds in water in order to acquire the correct consistency (Joyce and Henderson 2006). Older pottery vessels tend to have narrow taller necks, which are not as suited to this frothing technique.

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A Mexican woman frothing cacao in the traditional manner by pouring it from a vessel into cups. This is an early colonial drawing. 

The new flared neck bottle form develops around 900-700 B.C.E. In the social ceremonies in which cacao was served, the hosting party would create social debt to honor guests through the serving a feast prepared specifically for the guests (McNeil 2009). However, a fermented drink such as chicha would have already been in production due to the lengthy fermentation process. Fermented drinks would not have been given the same credit as the specifically prepared feasts for ceremonial occasions. Creating a performance out of serving the beverage would then circumvent this issue (Joyce and Henderson 2006).  These types of drink serving performances were commonplace with traditional non-alcoholic cacao beverages in later Mesoamerican society, with the hosting party adding other ingredients such as flowers or ground seeds at the time of serving (Dreiss and Greenhill 2008).  The process of grinding cacao seeds into a fine meal, may have originated as a method to increase the amount of social debt and honor to guests as the ground seeds were added to fermented cacao beverages at the time of serving. As such, these grounds had to be frothed into the drink at the time of serving creating a performance aspect to the drink. Therefore, this necessary performance aspect of the fermented drink may be the origins of the non-alcoholic varieties made from ground seeds and water which became universal across Mesoamerica (Joyce and Henderson 2006).

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Passing of a vessel containing frothed cacao during a ritual ceremony.

Through examination of the use of fermented cacao beverages, we reanalyzed the narrative of the origin of the cultivation of Theobroma cacao and discovered a potential new and enlightening prelude to the traditional origin story of modern cacao products. Cacao may have been first used in order to create the alcoholic “chicha” beverage which then gave rise to the traditional multistep nonalcoholic cacao beverage as a byproduct of complex serving performances of the alcoholic one during social ceremonies to honor guests.

Works Cited:

Christian, Mark. “A CONCISE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE.” The C-Spot, www.c-spot.com/atlas/historical-timeline/.

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

Dreiss, Meredith L., and Greenhill, Sharon. Chocolate : Pathway to the Gods. University ofArizona Press, 2008.

George, Andy. “Fermenting & Roasting | How to Make Everything: Chocolate Bar.” YouTube,How to Make Everything, 11 Feb. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUJ0heMcE-g.

Gross, Robin. “How to Make Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate (Chocolate Caliente).” The Spruce, 30 Aug. 2017, http://www.thespruce.com/authentic-mexican-hot-chocolate-4148366.

Joyce, Rosemary A, and Henderson, John S. “The Development of Cacao Beverages in Formative Mesoamerica.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, University Press of Florida, 2006.

McNeil, C. L..Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao. Gainesville: UniversityPress of Florida, 2009. Project MUSE,

Oneil, Megan E. “Chocolate, Food of the Gods, in Maya Art.” Unframed, LACMA, 27 Oct. 2016, unframed.lacma.org/2016/10/27/chocolate-food-gods-maya-art.

wilmo55. “Preparing Drinking Chocolate near Oaxaca, Mexico.” YouTube, YouTube, 25 Apr.2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlAg7zIR57k.

To chokola’j – Chocolate’s History as a Connector of People

The word “chocolate” potentially traces its etymological roots back to the Quiché Mayan verb chokola’j –  translated “to drink chocolate together” (Coe and Coe 118). While there remains debate over the exact origins of the word, there is no question the processed seeds from the fruit of the theobroma cacao tree that we now call chocolate or cacao has been a unique connector of individuals, groups, and cultures throughout its history. By examining the historical record: Depictions of ancient Maya and Mixtec marriage ritual, vessels from the ancestral Pueblo of North America, and paintings portraying New England and British chocolate houses of the 1600s and 1700s, we will see chocolate’s historical significance as a connector of people.

While the first evidence of chocolate cultivation traces back to the Mokoya and Olmec of early Mesoamerica, it was through the Maya (250 CE to 900 CE) and Mixtec (1000 CE to 1500 CE), where we first see chocolate’s significance as a social connector of individuals and families particularly through marriage ceremony (Presilla 10-11). The first example of cacao’s centrality to marriage can be seen through a Maya ritual called tac haa, roughly translated “to serve chocolate”.  In this ritual, the family of the groom-to-be would “invite the father of a girl whom one’s son wants to marry to discuss the marriage and serve him (chocolate) drink” (Martin “Mesoamerica”). The image below illustrates the communal and ritualistic aspects of the marriage ceremony with a vessel of chocolate clearly at the center.

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A vessel of chocolate at the center of the marriage ceremony of “tac haa”, illustrating chocolate’s centrality in bringing individuals and families together in Maya culture (Martin “Mesoamerica”).

The next example recorded from the Codex Zouche-Nuttal shows the Mixtec marriage of Lord Eight Deer and Lady Thirteen Serpent (1051 CE) (Dreiss and Greenhill 64). Lady Serpent holds a cup of chocolate with two hands offering it to Lord Eight Deer as a gesture to cement their marriage union.

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From the Codex Zouche-Nuttal, Lady Thirteen Serpent offering Lord Eight Deer a cup of chocolate to seal the marriage union in Mixtec society (1051 CE) (Martin “Mesoamerica”).

A similar example from the Chol Maya elevates the cacao bean itself as a key element of the marriage union. As described by Eric Thompson:

The form of marriage is: the bride gives the bridegroom a small stool painted in colors, and also gives him five grains of cacao, and says to him “These I give thee as a sign that I accept thee as my husband.” And he also gives her some new skirts and another five grains of cacao, saying the same thing. (Coe and Coe 61)

It is clear through the examination of these Maya and Mixtec artifacts that cacao was essential in knitting together the fabric of early Mesoamerican families and society. As we travel north, we will next examine ancient Pueblo artifacts discovered in pre-colonial New Mexico and Utah that suggest the surprisingly early presence of cacao in North America.

Until very recently, it was thought there was very little interaction between the Maya of Mesoamerica and the Pueblo of southwestern North America but recent chocolate research suggests otherwise. These two cultures may have been more interconnected than ever imagined – with chocolate being at the center of this cultural exchange (Haederle).  In 2009, University of New Mexico researcher Patricia Crown observed similarities between drinking vessels found at the historic Pueblo site of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (1000 – 1125 CE) and those used in Maya ceremony (Crown and Hurst). Crown turned to W. Jeffrey Hurst, a chemist for the Hershey Company, to test for the possibility of cacao residue on the Chaco Canyon vessels. Hurst tested five shards of pottery, three of which confirmed the presence of theobromine – a biomarker unique to cacao (Crown and Hurst).

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The presence of theobromine found on vessels from Chaco Canyon, New Mexico suggesting Maya and Pueblo relationship through trade of chocolate (Crown and Hurst).

Building on Crown and Hurst’s findings, in 2016 University of Pennsylvania researcher Dorothy Washburn examined pottery fragments originating from another historic Pueblo site located at Blanding, Utah. The vessel fragments tested also returned strong traces of theobromine, pushing the potential timeline for Maya and Pueblo interaction back 300-400 years to around 750 CE (Mozdy).

Chaco Canyon Map
Distribution of cacao cultivation in Central America showing closest major areas of production 1,200 miles from Chaco, Canyon, New Mexico CE 1502 (Crown and Hurst).

Considering the closest cacao source at that time was 1,200-1,400 miles away in Mesoamerica, these findings suggest the incredible lengths at which cacao traveled north. Says Crown of the New Mexico findings, “The only way for this material to get [to New Mexico] is [that] either people from Chaco walked down to get it, or it was traded hand to hand from Mesoamerica to Chaco, or people from Mesoamerica came up and traded it” (Haederle). The great distances a delicacy like cacao traveled and exchanged hands between the Maya and Pueblo elucidates chocolate’s connectivity and its social impact. From the ancient Pueblo culture of the southwest, we move next to New England and Britain of the 1600s and 1700s where we find paintings depicting coffee and chocolate houses as a forum for the vibrant exchange of ideas.

In both Boston and London, coffee and chocolate houses were at the center of political and cultural life where men of the emerging merchant class would “gather to discuss the news of the day and dangerous ideas like democracy or things that threatened the political elite of the time” (Martin “Introduction”). In Boston, we find the establishment of the first North American coffee and chocolate house as a political declaration in and of itself. Two women, Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard, successfully petitioned the city “to keepe a house of publique Entertainment for the selling of Cofffee and Chucaloette” (Martin “Introduction”). In London, members of nascent political parties would often gather at these houses and would eventually turn them into a virtual headquarters (Coe and Coe 223). These establishments were so threatening, King Charles II attempted to shut them down calling them “hotbeds of sedition” (Coe and Coe 167). However, equally reflective of the social position these houses had come to have in British society, public outcry prevented their suppression and they continued to grow in importance.

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17th Century painting underscoring the significance of coffee and chocolate houses as forums for political and cultural exchange (Wikimedia Commons).

In the 1600s and 1700s of New England and Britain, we see chocolate’s fundamental role in society as a reason for communal and political gathering and the debate of important ideas, not unlike the role coffee houses serve today.

Through examining the historical record depicting Maya and Mixtec marriage ritual, ancient vessels found in Pueblo North America, and images portraying coffee and chocolate houses in Boston and London, we see chocolate’s importance in binding together individuals and families, bridging different groups and cultures thousands of miles away, and serving as a reason for people to come together to discuss the important issues of the day. Reverberating from chocolate’s communal past is perhaps a paradigm to best view chocolate’s current social, economic, and environmental sustainability challenges. To chokola’j – to bring together disparate individuals and groups to have meaningful discussion and debate over the important issues surrounding chocolate itself – is perhaps the vessel we drink to in order to secure chocolate’s sustainable future.

Works Cited

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

Crown, Patricia L., and W. Jeffrey Hurst. “The distribution of cacao cultivation in Central America and Mexico in A.D. 1502, relative to Chaco Canyon” Digital Image. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 17 Feb. 2009, www.pnas.org/content/106/7/2110. Accessed 28 Feb 2018

Crown, Patricia L., and W. Jeffrey Hurst. “Evidence of Cacao Use in the Prehispanic American Southwest.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 17 Feb. 2009, www.pnas.org/content/106/7/2110. Accessed 28 Feb 2018

Dreiss, Meredith L. and Greenhill, Sharon E. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 2008. Print.

Haederle, Michael. “Mystery of Ancient Pueblo Jars Is Solved.” New York Times, 3 Feb. 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/us/04cocoa.html. Accessed 1 Mar 2018

Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 31 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.

Mozdy, Michael. “Utah’s Ancient Cacao: A Surprising Find.” Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah, 4 Aug. 2016, nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/08/04/utah%E2%80%99s-ancient-cacao-surprising-find. Accessed 02 Mar 2018

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

Unknown. Artist “Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century”. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. 01 Mar. 2018 http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~sajamato/description.html

Let Us Raise a Vessel to Cacao… Mayan Style!

Do you remember the last time you had a cup of hot chocolate? Was it served in a mug, topped with whipped cream? Or maybe you sipped it from a to-go cup from your favorite drive-thru restaurant. Most of the time we don’t fuss with what we’re drinking our hot chocolate from because we’re too busy enjoying the aroma and experience this time honored beverage provides us. Yet, ancient cultures, alike the Mayans, respected their cacao drinking methods and admired the cup they drank from just as much as they prized the drink itself. In many cases, cacao wouldn’t have been drunk if it wasn’t out of an artistically treasured and symbolized vessel… a far cry from how we view and present our version of hot chocolate today. Nevertheless, this customary beverage and the material in which it was once presented in was systematically ritualized throughout the ancient Classic Maya culture, proving a frothy cup of cacao was more than just something to cheers with.

The Classic Maya period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.) was considered to be the most influential and profound stage of the ancient Mayan civilization. Fabulous accomplishments, such as towering pyramids and vast palaces throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, beautifully decorated ceramics, and a distinguishable writing system flourished during this time. This was also a time when the Maya elite prospered, and their admiration for the finer things in life influenced their daily lives and dietary intake, ritualizing items such as cacao and the vessels they were ingested from. David Stuart, an archaeologist and epigrapher who specializes in Mesoamerican cultures, describes in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, the ways in which the Maya civilization upheld the role of cacao within their society. Stuart suggests, “The importance of cacao in Classic Maya society was not widely appreciated until the decipherment of glyphic texts on ceramics in the 1980s, when it became clear that seemingly countless ceramic vessels were inscribed with a dedicatory formula identifying them as drinking vessels for chocolate” (Stuart 184).

Around the same time those descriptive discoveries were uncovered, much excitement arose when two vessels were found in Guatemala containing chemical remains of cacao (Theobromine), a study that was performed by W. Jeffery Hurst, a chemist at the Hershey Foods Technical Center (Carla D. Martin, Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods,” January 31, 2018). By identifying the Maya word and glyph for cacao (ka-ka-wa), including the remains of Theobromine, archaeologists soon realized the extensive amount of Maya vessels which were artistically depicted with the kakaw glyph, symbolizing the importance of cacao within their culture, alongside the vessels in which they were consumed from (Stuart 184). In most early cases, a vessel that depicted the kakaw glyph was considered to be apart of a Maya elites collection, illustrating the consumption of cacao was reserved for those of importance within the community.

The Kakaw Glyph
Figure 1. The kakaw glyph (ka-ka-wa) in the Dresden Codex. a. The individual syllables of ka-ka-wa. b. The representation of the God of Death holding an offering of a bowl of cacao. Drawings by Carlos Villacorta from the Dresden Codex (1976).

Maricel E. Presilla, a cultural historian, chef, and author of the book, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, reviews the ways in which the kakaw glyph was depicted on Maya pots and drinking vessels, and goes on to say, “Dozens of Classic Maya pots and jars, included along with other furnishings in burial chambers, depict chocolate as a crucial, central element of opulent feasts” (Presilla 12). Archaeologists have also come to believe that the vessel in which the cacao drink was drunk from had different levels of significance and cultural value, through the means of the artwork depicted on the cup and the individuals utilizing this piece of material culture (Presilla 12). Realizations as such have contributed to many other professionals from a plethora of academic fields, such as anthropologists and art curators, into the mix, creating a vast amount of research conducted around this specific topic. Dr. Dorie Reents-Budet, an Art Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, describes the functionality of these impressive vessels in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, and considers these vessels, “Function as containers for edibles and also as portable props whose myths-political imagery lent power and prestige to their owners and the event during which they were used” (Reents-Budet 210).

As a result, these elaborate cacao drinking vessels served up a frothy-drink of dualism between the vessel itself and the individual enjoying this influential beverage. Illustrations of exclusive banquets held by the Maya elite were plentiful, and according to Reents-Budet, these elite banquets which included fantastic kakaw serving vessels, “Transcended their primary function as food service wares and were transformed into indispensable status markers and essential gifts; that is, they became social currency” (Reents-Budet 213). The aftereffect of these frequent banquets lead to those creative kakaw drinking vessels to be perceived as social currency and a higher status, and soon after, production of cacao drinking vessels by “highly trained artisans and renewed painters” (Reents-Budet 214) was off and running.

A Late Classic Maya Vase
Figure 2. A Late Classic Maya period polychrome vase for serving chocolate beverages and giving as gifts during elite feasts. Collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Photograph copyright Justin Kerr (K2800).

As a result of this newfound kakaw drinking vessel popularity, the Maya civilization never looked back, and the ideals around this foamy, ritualized beverage flourished for the rest of their reign. Through mysterious circumstances, the decline of the Maya culture happened sometime between the late eighth and ninth century, creating a sense of wonder around this distinguished ancient civilization. While we may never know what truly happened to the Mayans and their artistic culture, the remnants of their treasured vessels and love for cacao has overcome their deterioration, and continues to thrive in our modern day society through academic means and pure curiosity for what was once a fascinating and complex society.

Depiction of a Cacao Beverage Being Frothed
Figure 3. Classic Maya period depicting the aerating of a kakaw beverage by pouring the liquid from one jar to another placed on the floor. Collections from the Princeton Art Museum (acc. no. 75-17, the Hans and Dorthy Widenmann Foundation). Photograph copyright Justin Kerr (K511).

References Cited:

Martin, Carla D. Mesoamerica and the “food gods.” Harvard University, Jan. 2018, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XF-lM9Z9iks0cVhUFRJ1QWBokKTRrdvZISwAJVSe_Ag/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_2_18

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

Reents-Budet, Dorie. “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. 202-223.

Stuart, David. “The Language of Chocolate References to Cacao on Classic Maya Drinking Vessels.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. 184-201.

Dumbledore Loves Chocolate
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Dir. Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. DVD.

 

Ethnography on Chocolate: Socioeconomic Visual Culture, Mesoamerican Origins, & Contemporary Perspectives

The purpose of this small-scale ethnography is to examine the social significance of chocolate from a cross-cultural perspective. Through interviewing various members of my local community that were born in different regions of Mexico and Central America, I document here their experiences and observances of chocolate.

Experienced through consumption or non-consumption, and observed through their emic perspective, there are underscoring themes exposed amongst the roles in which chocolate has played throughout each of their own lives. Within the context of those personal relationships with chocolate, an interaction between social and economic functions of their state and country may be contemporaneous to their outlook. Although this simultaneity is not always the circumstance, motifs emerge as their uniqueness transpires. Effectually, their contributed insight has actualized a microcosm of chocolates’ socio-cultural diversity and likenesses.

While conducting the interviews with members of my community, the aim was to first listen to their observances, and to then ask questions of clarification to assist in their thought process. The framework of my Q&A was designed this way to acquire a qualitative study, so that this retelling would reflect the individual perspectives of each subject, synchronously providing a glimpse into the societal experience. To depict those experiences through a cultural historical lens, that of which illustrated itself during most of the interviews already, I asked questions about their culture as a whole and how they thought chocolate was generally regarded in their own communities.

This study is not meant to define those relationships, but to highlight multiplicities within these individual cross- cultural accounts. Over reflections of my own and of the human subjects in this ethnographic study, I hope to provide sufficient ­imagery of historic milieu within the functional roles chocolate has played in personal experience and in society.

Origins

Theobroma Cacao, or the Food-of-the-God’s Cacao, is widely accepted by botanists and scholars as indigenous to Mesoamerica. Evidence of its cultivation is indicative of the role it played in ancient civilizations like the Mixe-Zoquean-speaking Olmecs (1500 BCE – 400 BCE). At the famed Olmec archaeological site in San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, evidence has been found of the term “Kakawa” used by the Olmec as early as 1000 BCE (Coe & Coe, 1996). See on the map below, San Lorenzo is west of present day Guatemala, and north of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

 

San Lorenzo on the map 2
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán is a famed archaeological site, well known for the massive Olmec stone heads excavated there

 

We find in the archaeological record, the ways in which early civilizations illustrated cacao, or “Kakawa” on their pottery. This being a significant attribute to understand the role chocolate played in their livelihoods and rituals. According to Maricel Presilla in her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, “it was the Maya who brought chocolate making to a high art… building on the foundation left behind by other Mesoamerican cultures”, like that of the Olmecs and other sibling tribes (2009).

 

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Buenavista vase, Buenavista del Cayo, Belize

 

See this Classic Maya vase from the seventh century portraying the Maize God in an “unending dance, symbolizing both the creation of the universe and also his cycle of death and rebirth” (Takushi, Pioneer Press).

Maya Classic period (250 – 900 CE) vessels show quite literally the function of cacao as it was for drinking, as well as the relative role it played in Mayan life though various representations of the divine.

This is one of the many Classic period vessels that was found to contain cacao residues inside. We know it was used to hold chocolate because cacao is the only plant in the region with both the compounds Theobromine and Caffeine, “a unique marker for the presence of cacao in pre-Columbian artifacts” (Cheong, 2011). To verify the vessels were used to hold chocolate was an important piece to the archaeological record. It provided contextual knowledge when deciphering the imagery or glyphs depicted on the vessels.

Affirmed in the glyphs of drinking vessels from this period, there is evidence of “well established cacao-chocolate terminology”. On the Buenavista vase shown above, we see “tree-fresh cacao” inscribed.  From the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) of the glyphs you see banded around the top of the vessel, the characters that make the Maya name for cacao, “Ka-Ka-Wa” were deciphered. What strikes me the most about this piece is the seemingly relative “tree-fresh cacao” to the Maize God’s cyclical existence. (Presilla, 2009)

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Buenavista vase closeup: Maya glyphs depicted translate to “tree-fresh cacao”, “Ta-Tsih-Te’el Kakawa” (Prescilla)

I particularly find this vessel so interesting when we look at the role of chocolate in culture because it reflects a cyclical ideology of their ecological relationship to their land; in the sustenance it provides, the concept of time through death and rebirth, and their Gods all-encompassing role within those cycles.

Field Study

A few years ago in 2013 I came to know a few young men and women from the northern Mexican state of Sonora – (follow the link to read a brief history of Seri Indians of Sonora). They were working and studying here on visa’s while we were employed at a busy restaurant in the heart of downtown Boston. What better place than behind the bar to nose around and pick into people’s lives for cultural insights! Just kidding on the nose-picking… but seriously, even minute conversations with guests created thought-provoking observations. During their multiple terms of residency in Boston over the years, these talented intellectual Sonoran natives and I connected on Mexican – American culture alike, and apart. Upon reaching out to ask if anyone would be interested in participating in this modest ethnographic study, my request was received most graciously. They have all elected to omit fully identifying information, so for the purposes of this study, I will refer to them by their first name only. Below I have included their perspectives on the role chocolate has played throughout their lives.

Andrés began by explaining Mexico as a large country where the culture is full of diversity. “Every state has their own culture about everything – food, traditional parties, our dialect and slang”. With that being said, in the state of Sonora where he lives he doesn’t use chocolate and cacao the way he knows it is used in the southern states of the country like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Tabasco. Andrés has observed the influence of cacao beans in southern Mexico because the cacao growing region produces a lot of recipes that involve cacao and chocolate.

When I asked what he knows about Mesoamerican uses for cacao, he remembers learning from childhood that they used it as currency, and he understood they sometimes would use it in beauty treatments. On that note, I recollect a fortuitous conversation about skin care had between myself and a female of Mexican ancestry I met while servicing wedding hair and makeup to her cousin’s bridal party, circa summer 2015 in East Boston – Indeed, I am not only an aspiring Anthropologist, also a Cosmetologist. My thoughts are usually occupied by anthropological inquiry on a daily basis, which inevitably grants unique opportunity for cultural discussions with the people I meet. Although not a part of this ethnography, she let me know back then about her family recipe for a skin care regimen that contains cacao. Her grandmother and her aunts would grind down cacao beans into a powder, “cocoa powder” minus the hydraulic press. They would mix the antioxidant rich powder with other grinded down local herbs, add water to create a paste-like texture and apply generously to the skin.

“Lather. Dry. Rinse. Repeat.” – she persisted. Yum.

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The Spa At Hotel Hershey seems to know just how to indulge all the senses with chocolate

 

For the purposes of this study, I was curious about chocolate in spa treatments, as I have heard echoes of the luxury before. Take a look at The Spa At The Hotel Hershey or examples of just a few contemporary accommodations created for chocolate in the beauty industry.

Andrés expressed to me that Sonora being just below Arizona, his culture is more- so “American” than the way Mexicans live in the south. It is in his experience and observation the misconception of Mexican culture as being one. I think any educated person understands culture, language, economy, etc. vary across spaces of human population. Yet, for those who generalize a nation’s people by its borders, Andrés and his community experience the bias. He grew up with a collection of influences “by the things Americans do”. For example, one of his earliest memories of eating chocolate was during Halloween. They’re also heavily influenced by “spring break madness”, as he defined the season. He grew up consuming chocolate predominantly made by the big corporations, like Mars. His notable favorites being the Snicker and M&Ms. “In the south they don’t have that influence, they don’t experience American Halloween as we do”.

Carlos V chocolate bars are the Nestlé- proclaimed “# 1 chocolate brand in Mexico with over 70 years in the market!… Because of its unique and mild flavor, it is considered the reference of chocolate for Mexicans.” The Aztec stylized imagery first designed to brand the chocolate before it was bought by Nestlé sometime in the 1980’s was created by Fabrica de Chocolates La Azteca, S.A. de C.V. Jason Liebig on his blog, Collecting Candy chronicles his findings in the L.M. Kallok Confectioners Collection of antique packaging. Most notable about the evolution of the branding is first the Aztec styling alongside the “Imperial Coat of Arms” for “by the grace of God, Carolus V Imperator (emporer)”. Then with the English labeling introduced we see a change in the ingredients as well (which was apparent of each label seen in Leibig’s compilation from the beginning to the end. “A tie-in with the film Toy Story, which tells us La Azteca was still the brand’s sole owner as late as 1995″ is interesting where we see Quaker Oats leaving its insignia on the label by the late 1990’s.

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Not one of the Sonoran’s I interviewed has tried a Carlos V chocolate bar but they have all heard of it at some point in their life through advertisements. Eduardo attests to Andrés’ personal account of diversity from the southern regions in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos is “not celebrated as much as the south, but we do things like going to the cemetery”, Andrés says. Eduardo told me that they celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 2. “We celebrate in memory of the people who are no longer with us and usually at the tombstones we put special things they liked when they were alive. Chocolates is usually one of them”. Both Andrés and Eduardo did not have a definitive sense of the historical reason for chocolate being placed on gravesites, but they both know it as a long- standing tradition and ritual in celebrating their deceased ancestors. Fernanda, another Sonoran native, added some insight to this practice of memorial. She told me that usually the graveyards are managed by local churches or publicly owned so in contrast to the majority of graveyards that are privately owned in the US, the families play a greater role in gravesite maintenance of their deceased. In this way, chocolate serves a social function in their celebrations.

Interpretations

Shown below, Dr. Martin presented in class this semester some of the ways Maya and Mixtec society visually depicted the functions that cacao played within their cultural practices and belief systems. Royal marriages necessitated the use of currency in the negotiation, so we see in the Codex Nuttall how cacao was a part of the price for the bride. Eduardo remembers learning in school that Mayans used to used the cacao “as a coin to buy everything, from goods to wives”. A relative topic for further study would be in the ways chocolate was introduced to the elite. Diffused out of Mesoamerica first by the Spanish, the Europeans assimilated to its royal regard and used chocolate in the women’s dowry through royal inter-marriages – that of which played a great role in spreading chocolate throughout Europe.

Another example (seen below) comes from the Madrid Codex where we see cacao being exchanged, portraying a give-and-take linkage between their concepts of cyclical time (lunar goddess) and their environment (rain god). I find this imagery especially expressive to their belief of the divine relationship to their human existence and sustenance on earth. Lastly, from the Codex Nuttall we see a royal funerary procession in “Twelve Movements”. Within the tomb depicted at the bottom right of the artwork lies a “vessel of foaming cacao beverage… to ease the soul’s journey to the underworld”. (Martin)

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Eduardo recounts drinking cups of hot chocolate since he can remember. While traveling south to Puebla state he tried their “typical meal, mole, and it’s made of cacao”. What he knows about the Maya and cacao is how they used to prepare beverages and meals like the Puebla “mole”. “We have different tribes and culture but we learned about it in school and I experiences it myself while traveling south. Cacao is still a huge deal in south Mexico.”

 

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“Mole” Ingredients. Presilla, 2009

 

See the dozen or more ingredients to make the traditional “thick, baroque sauce, mole” from Xalapa, Veracruz (Presilla), north of Puebla state in Mexico. Presilla notes that each ingredient is “processed in sequence, each at its own time” (2009).

As the mole is diverse in ingredients, and rich in unique Mesoamerican culture, so too – as these contemporary perspectives have illustrated, are the people of the region diversely interwoven with it’s history and unique place on Earth’s sphere.

***

 

Sources:

Campbell, Lyle & Kaufman, Terrence. 1976. A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs: American Antiquity, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 80-89 Published by: Society for American Archaeology http://www2.hawaii.edu/~lylecamp/LC%20Lx%20look%20at%20Olmecs%20JSTOR.pdf

Cheong, Kong (Powis, T.; Cyphers, A.; Gaikwad, T.W.; Grivetti, L.) 2011. Cacao use and the San Lorenzo Olmec: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 108(21):8595-600 · May 2011 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51110764_Cacao_Use_and_the_San_Lorenzo_Olmec

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

Johnston, Bernice. 1997. The Seri Indians of Sonora Mexico. The University of Arizona Press http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/onlinebks/SERIS/HISTORY.HTM

Liebig, Jason. 2012. Carlos V – Building a history for the King of Chocolate Bars http://www.collectingcandy.com/wordpress/?p=2958

Martin, Carla. 2017 AAAS E-119 Lecture Slides. February 1st, pp.23, 47, 53, 57

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

Morton, Marcia and Frederic. 1986 Chocolate, An Illustrated History Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, NY

Nestlé. 2017. https://www.nestle.com.mx/brands/carlos-v

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Harvard University. 2017. https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/node/287

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

Smithsonian Institute. 2017. Olmec Stone Heads photo: http://anthropology.si.edu/olmec/english/sites/sanLorenzo.htm

Takushi, Scott (Pioneer Press). 2013, December 17. Museum of Belize and House of Culture: NEWSEUM Blog Spot: Belize’s Maya Collection on Displayhttps://mobnmoc.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/belizes-maya-collection-on-display/mayaex1/

Unknown photographer; featured image. 2016, October – November. Nexos. https://americanwaymagazine.com/cacao-route

Unknown photographer; chocolate as beauty regimen image. 2017. The Spa At The Hotel Hershey. http://www.chocolatespa.com/treatments/signature/chocolate.php

Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

 

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Chocolate had used as medicine since its inception. The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have consume anywhere from 20 to 50 glasses in order to remain virile. In more recent times, scientists have been looking into whether there are some medical treasures hidden in this scrumptious treat. Naturally, scientists have been zooming in on what it is in chocolate that gives it its health benefits. Scientists now believe these compounds in chocolate, called flavanols, have antioxidant properties and could help treat a variety of conditions and fight a variety of diseases. This has led to a lot of good research being done. There have been studies done that look at chocolate’s impact in fighting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer[1]. There have been studies looking at chocolate’s effect on cognitive function, memory, and blood pressure.  However, before you run to the pantry to self-medicate with chocolate be forewarned; this research, like all medical research, in fact like all science, has caveats. This particular group of research has a good deal of caveats, though not every study has the exact same caveats. Those depend on the strengths and failings of each individual study.

There is one caveat though that applies to this entire group of research; all the chocolate in these studies is all dark chocolate, that is to say to that it is at least sixty percent cacao solids. Milk chocolate is not included and for good reason. US law states that chocolate only needs to contain ten percent cacao in order to legally qualify as chocolate, the rest is mainly sugar, fat, and a few other things such as milk. According to professor Carla Martin, lecturer at Harvard University and director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, “A Hershey’s Kiss typically contains about, I think, 11 percent cacao content”. To put that in perspective, if you had a bar of typical milk chocolate that weighed one hundred grams (about the weight of an iPhone 5S[2]), then the actual amount of chocolate in the bar would be only about ten grams, or the weight of two nickels. The fact that milk chocolate has barely any actual chocolate means that milk chocolate has barely any of those cacao flavanols that are thought to provide the health benefits. Thus, anyone, scientist or otherwise, looking towards chocolate for health benefits has to look towards chocolate with a high cacao content.

Chocolate flavanols table
Figure 1

 

There are many pitfalls a research study can fall into. One of these is having a limited and/or small sample size.  Multiple studies on the effect of chocolate on health have had sample sizes of less than a couple hundred people. One such study, the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study had only ninety participants. The study found that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, but given such small sample size it is difficult to draw any large generalized conclusions for the general population, since there is a wide variety of differences across populations. Moreover, the CoCoA study limited their sample size in an attempt at prove clearer causation; because this was a study on aging all the participant were elderly, and the study also excluded Current smokers, habitual users of antioxidant supplements (including vitamins C and E), habitual consumers of chocolate or other cocoa products (daily consumption of any amount), or individuals prescribed medications known to have antioxidant properties (including statins and glitazones) or to interfere with cognitive functions (including benzodiazepines and antidepressants). This means for populations outside the participant group, the research has limited application, since the researcher did not look at how cocoa flavanol intake affects people with these additional variables. It has to be remembered that studies like this are jumping off point, they prove that there is something there that needs to be looked into, but further research is required in order to the proper applications and implications of the initial research.

Continue reading Sweet Medicine: The science of chocolate and health

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.

Amazon Basin
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.

Making Makeup Sweet

Warmth, indulgence, luxury – chocolate evokes many images as a sinfully sweet treat. Commodifying these fantasies is profitable because consumers long to be associated “with the romantic construction of chocolate” despite the fact that “systematic exploitation” and manipulative advertisements usually lurk behind chocolate (Robertson 5). In this modern age of cosmetic beauty standards and visually driven social media, the euphoric emotions associated with edible cacao products has spread to a form of non-edible chocolate consumption: chocolate infused makeup. Since chocolate products allow consumers to “express our own sense of identity” while offering ways “to say things about ourselves, our families, [and] our social world,” I situate the marketing of chocolate based makeup products in the same trajectory as the gendered, classed, and raced advertisements of edible chocolate (Robertson 19). This entails comparing a chocolate cosmetic line (Too Faced) from Sephora, a leading beauty retailer chain, to a chocolate bar sold at department stores containing Sephora outlets in order to capture the differences and similarities found when advertising chocolate and chocolate makeup. While both chocolate makeup and edible chocolate advertisements separate Westerners from chocolate’s problematic origins and perpetuate gendered, elitist Western beauty standards, the racism present in the presentation of chocolate infused makeup is more noticeable because it is an object applied to the skin rather than ingested within the body.

Cocoa Cosmetics at Sephora

Sephora is a beauty and fragrance chain founded in France in 1970 (the first U.S. store opened in 1998) under the international luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Sephora offers an array of makeup, perfume, skin care, beauty tools, and body pampering items from different brands, including its own original Sephora line, in large stores complete with mirrors, makeup counters, and tester products to try on for free. Sephora believes that “every stroke, swipe and dab reveals possibility” and the company shares their “client’s love for the confidence that our products … bring to their life every day” (Sephora.com). The store oozes sophistication and style with extensive displays and its connection to the parent company’s elite Louis Vuitton brand. In 2006, J.C. Penney, a large American department store chain, began an exclusive agreement to feature Sephora outlet stores inside many of its locations in order to attract spendthrift younger crowds. In addition to home goods, clothes, and accessories, J.C. Penney also sells an assortment of Lindt chocolates including Lindor truffles, Cioccolata, and Hello chocolate. I will use an advertisement from Lindt Dark Chocolate Excellence, the main type of traditional chocolate candy bar sold in J.C. Penney according to their online inventory, as a lens for critiquing the marketing of chocolate-infused makeup.

The aisle of Sephora stores in Hawaii (left) and Minnesota (right) stocked with Too Faced products (the only cosmetics brand Sephora sells that contains cacao). These images are indicative of Sephora stores everywhere; they capture Sephora’s extravagance and its impeccably clean, classy makeup displays. 

With “about 706 stores in the United States” (both outlets inside J.C. Penney and stand-alone stores) attracting consumers hoping to align themselves with a certain image, Sephora has stores in every inhabitable continent except for one – Africa (Forbes.com). Despite selling chocolate cosmetics through Too Faced, Sephora – one of the world’s most popular makeup retailers – has no stores in the continent that produces 70% of the world’s chocolate (Wessel 2016). Consumers of chocolate infused makeup are divorced from the bean’s origins yet, in the case of makeup and edible chocolate, buy cacao to be associated with its symbolic meanings.

Separating Fact From Fiction

The majority of chocolate sold in America is from bulk cacao of the sturdy Forastero variety produced in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Since lesser developed areas in the global south have an abundance of unskilled labor, they rely on exporting primary products to the global market. Because colonization, slavery, and forced migration disrupted social connections, destroyed culture, and decimated the population, developing countries lack the infrastructure and capital needed to compete with developed places. Neoliberal policies of privatized industries, few regulations, and free trade instead divert international trade profits away from chocolate producing countries, which affects the modern-day chocolate industry. Commodities such as cacao are subject to extreme fluctuations in price because “price evolution is less and less dictated by changes in … supply and demand” and more determined by others in the supply chain (Sylla 40). Market volatility means that cacao farmers are mired in intergenerational debt, since relatives often work on family-owned western African cacao plantations to lower costs. However, consumers are far removed from the instability and inequality facing cacao farmers. Companies use advertisements that reinforce local cultural norms to sell chocolate so that they can entice consumers who want to satisfy and promote certain social standards. Doing so is a long-established tradition; once “chocolate became available for the working classes [in] the nineteenth century, … women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family,” as intimated by chocolate advertisements (Robertson 20). In a feminization of chocolate consumption, doting housewives and loving mothers provided their families with nutritious chocolate milk or sweetened their children’s day with chocolate candies. Chocolate marketing eventually progressed from idealizing familial love to idealizing heterosexual courtship by the mid-twentieth century through a focus on “light-hearted but respectable” stories of “young white couples” with female characters that were “irrational narcissistic consumers … seduced by the chocolate themselves” (Robertson 31, 33-34).

A commercial from 2016 for Lindt Dark Chocolate, which is sold in the same department store (J.C. Penney) that contains Sephora outlets selling chocolate makeup.

In a modern-day example, the commercial for Lindt Excellence dark chocolate (sold at J.C. Penney), hints at chocolate induced female “orgasmic pleasure” (Robertson 35). A woman’s silky voice encourages consumers to “experience the ultimate pleasure with Lindt,” as the chocolate is “luxurious” and “so intense.” She truly is seduced by cacao. These types of advertisements, where women feel “orgasmic pleasure” after eating chocolate, ultimately suggest “how women should project their heterosexual yearnings and fantasies onto chocolate consumption” (35). The dripping chocolate, the chocolatier caressing cacao beans, and the passionate fire add to this sexualized setting while the main character lustfully sniffs a chocolate piece. These sexual, romantic insinuations increase chocolate’s profitability as the fruit growing on cacao plantations in the global south has become fictionalized into a commodity that promises happiness and sensuality in the global north.

Chocolate Bar Palettes

Promises of happiness and feminine sensuality found in modern-day chocolate advertisements have been easily transferred to non-edible chocolate products. Through chocolate, women are encouraged to “project their heterosexual yearnings;” through makeup, women can project related fantasies involved in heterosexual courtship, such as female beauty, wealth, and seductiveness, onto cosmetic products that will allow them to be recognized as such (Robertson 35). In cacao-based makeup, chocolate, an edible item that promises pleasure, becomes a part of the user’s appearance in way that commodifies the body as a physical manifestation of chocolate’s symbolism. Chocolate makeup thereby transfers notions of female sensuality, sweetness, and lusciousness to the body, a reality that cacao cosmetic advertisements subtly emphasize.

Sephora sells a range of chocolate related facial cosmetics through two makeup brands (Bobbi Brown and Too Faced), though only the Too Faced chocolate makeup line lists cacao as an ingredient in the product. Beyond powdered bronzer and foundation, Too Faced offers a range of popular eyeshadow palettes that will be the focus of this analysis because they are packaged to look like traditional chocolate bars. For $49.00, consumers can buy Too Faced’s most reviewed, top rated eyeshadow collection that is “formulated using real cocoa powder” (Sephora).  

Marketed as a “A sweetly tempting array of 16 matte and shimmer shadows,” the Chocolate Bar Eye Palette is shaped, named, scented (with Theobroma cacao fruit powder), and colored (on the outside) like chocolate to attract consumers who want to embody chocolate’s sexy sweetness (Sephora.com). 

The shadow palette comes in a “playful chocolate bar tin,” complete with colors like “gilded ganache,” “black forrest truffle,” “triple fudge,” “haute chocolate,” and “white chocolate,” which evoke chocolate-related feelings of sumptuousness and opulence (Sephora.com). Subtle details, like pink cursive on the outside, cue consumers to the feminized image they are taking part of by using the product, but the wording and visuals are not as overtly sexual as the edible chocolate bar commercial. Edible chocolate like Lindt has been stripped of its physical reality, allowing non-edible products to draw from the sensual fantasy chocolate stirs. Too Faced also offers a Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar with slightly lighter colors and a Chocolate Bon Bons Palette with heart-shaped bright and neutral colors for the same steep price, as well as a smaller White Chocolate Chip Palette with metallic shadows for $26.00.

The three additional types of cocoa powder infused eyeshadow palettes sold at Sephora through Too Faced. All are shaped like chocolate bars and have colors written under each eyeshadow that are named for chocolate-related products.

Norton’s Tasting Empire mentions Bourdieu’s theory that “social subjects classified by their classifications distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make” in a way that is in “accord with social hierarchies” (Norton 663). Those reaching for Too Faced’s cocoa cosmetics are choosing to be recognized as tasteful consumers with a fondness for chocolate and all of its figurative images. The product’s high price and link with Sephora, a high-end makeup retailer, implies an elite status shared by those who use the Chocolate Bar palettes. Lindt chocolate uses similar, but more noticeable tactics beyond price and image to clue consumers in on their chocolate’s elite qualities. The chocolate is from the “Excellence” line and has the “richest flavors” from the “finest cocoa” according to the commercial’s narrator. The chocolate bar is a “thin masterpiece,” and Lindt prides itself on being known as a “Master Swiss Chocolatier since 1845.” These descriptions, plus the logo’s embossed gold, make the chocolate deluxe and top-tier, enticing consumers who seek to embed themselves in a particular class. Consumers play an active role in their product selection, using both chocolate makeup and edible chocolate as a “cultural mode” to express themselves or to “acquire social meaning” (Robertson 19). People aspire to be associated with chocolate whose presentation represents their values.

Race and Chocolate Advertisements

Besides attracting consumers with a promise of beauty and lavishness, the Chocolate Bar line sells racialized femininity and wealth, much like traditional chocolate bars.

This makeup tutorial uses the Chocolate Bar and Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bar Palette from Too Faced to create a completed look on a white woman who embodies Western standards of beauty and class.

Similar to the woman in the Lindt commercial, the women featured in the makeup tutorials for Too Faced’s collection are white and well-dressed, positioning shoppers “in relation to that product as gendered, classed and raced beings” (Robertson 19). Racism has permeated advertising for edible chocolate throughout history. Though falling prices and diverse products theoretically brought chocolate into the hands of the masses during the 1800s, only certain people were shown as deserving access to the goods. Wholesome, “sugary-sweet white boys and girls” in white families were the idealized consumers who grew “stronger through drinking cocoa;” blacks were often stereotyped in advertisements, depicted as cartoons, “supervis[ed]” by whites, or displayed as a combination of all three trends to support socially constructed racial hierarchies (Robertson 39).

In order to “reinforc[e] dominant contemporary ideologies,” chocolate “adverts created a world of white consumers in which the black producers of cocoa beans and the black consumers of chocolate were at best pushed to the margins, if not excluded completely” (54). Though Robertson is referring to the connection between Chocolate, Women, and Empire with respect to Rowntree and Cadbury, these prominent chocolate companies (founded in 1862 and 1824, respectively) successfully influenced other companies’ cocoa ads. Similar to Lindt’s chocolate advertisements, Too Faced’s Chocolate Bar Palettes also pander to white consumers, but in a more significant and noticeable way. Those with darker skin tones, for example, must guess how the shades show up on their skin, for the fair-skinned woman in the makeup tutorial is the stand-in for Too Faced’s average consumer. Reviews for the palettes are overall very high, but filtering the thousands of reviews by skin type reveals dissatisfaction from women of color. In reviews for the Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar Palette, many mention that “a few of the colors are too close for distinction on my deep dark skin” and “they tend to blend together into a muddy mess on my lids” (Sephora.com). Ironically,  once a user “tried the [colors] that were lacking over a white base … then [she] was able to see them” better (Sephora.com). A comprehensive review of the Chocolate Bar Eye Palette from a female user with a dark skin tone claims: 

This is an adorable palette. Pretty colors and it actually smells like chocolate. However, what’s disappointing is that it’s only suitable for lighter skin tones. The colors were pretty on my fair-skined best friend but I found that on me, they were just dull. For you girls with darker skin tones, 90% of the shadows in this palette will just look chalky when applied. Not at all a high end look (Sephora.com).

The eyeshadow pigments were not vibrant enough to be seen properly on darker skinned women, but on lighter women the colors look wonderful.

makeupusage
An excerpt from the how-to glamour guide that comes with the Chocolate Bon Bons Palette from Too Faced, which features only light-skinned women.

Reviews for the Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar palette when filtered by users with “fair,” “light,” “medium,” and “olive” skin tones are more glowing: “the eye shadows are pigmented, creamy and blend like a dream” raves a fair-skinned woman (Sephora.com). A paper glamour guide comes with the Bon Bons Palette to show consumers possible looks they can create with the shadows, but each eye makeup example comes from the face of a light woman. Despite the fact that the colors in these eyeshadow palettes contain cacao and are named after cacao products, women with brown skin tones are disregarded in the advertisement and testing of this product the way chocolate’s true origins are disregarded by the fictionalized symbolism of chocolate (and chocolate-based makeup). This exclusion mirrors the way female cacao farmers and black women who enjoy chocolate are purposefully left out of chocolate ads.

Conclusion

Too Faced’s Chocolate Bar Palettes and Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate both use similar racialized, gendered, and classist advertising strategies that fictionalize chocolate’s reality and continue the separation between cacao producer and cacao consumer. Though the two items analyzed are sold in J.C. Penney department stores, they have different uses. Lindt Excellence’s commercial focuses on the physical pleasure chocolate brings, while Too Faced’s chocolate line plays into aesthetic beauty standards that exclude people with dark skin. Edible and non-edible chocolate products alike market values that consumers identify with and want to promote. 

Works Cited:

Multimedia Sources

“Chocolate Bar Eye Shadow Collection.” Eyes/Eye Shadow Palettes. Too Faced, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Lindt Excellence Cocoa 70%.” YouTube. Lindt Chocolate World, 12 Feb. 2016. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Too Faced Bronze Smokey Eye with a Pop of Color Tutorial featuring Daniel Chinchilla.” YouTube. Sephora, 10 Oct. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Too Faced Chocolate Bon Bons Palette.” Makeup/Eye/Eye Palettes. Sephora, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Too Faced Semi Sweet Chocolate Bar.” Makeup/Eye/Eye Palettes. Sephora, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Too Faced The Chocolate Bar Eye Palette.” Makeup/Eye/Eye Palettes. Sephora, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Too Faced White Chocolate Chip Palette.” Makeup/Eye/Eye Palettes. Sephora, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

Scholarly Sources

Loeb, Walter. “Sephora: Department Stores Cannot Stop Its Global Growth.” Retail. Forbes, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Oxford Journal. Web.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester U Press, 2013. Print.

Wessel, Marius, and P.M. Foluke Quist-Wessel. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 74-75 (2015): 1-7. ScienceDirect. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Chocolate and Beer: how the ancient use of Theobroma spp. inspired the creation of a new “ancient brew”

Dogfish Head Theobroma
Image 1: Dogfish Head – Theobroma “Ancient Ale”

Chocolate is a favorite treat for many in modern times, but it was also a favorite for the people in ancient Mesoamerica. Today, in the U.S.A., we can easily purchase chocolate from establishments ranging from grocery stores to gas stations, and chocolate is a popular ingredient in foods such as candy and many beverages. We are able to easily purchase our chocolate treats, in all forms, without ever seeing, touching, processing, or preparing our treats from the plant itself. In ancient times the fruit of Theobroma spp. was collected and processed by the inhabitants of many ancient civilizations. When scholars investigate the origins of the use of Theobroma spp. many questions arise such as, “How was this plant used by ancient cultures?” and “Which parts of the plant were consumed?” These questions are answered through the use of many scientific facets such as analyses of ancient writings and the examination of ancient artifacts through chemical analyses. Through these efforts, scientists are able to piece together a timeline detailing the earliest known use of this plant by ancient societies. This post will examine how the discovery of ancient pottery demonstrated that ancient civilizations used the fruits of Theobroma spp. to produce alcoholic beverages, and how this discovery allowed for the incorporation of chocolate into a modern day beer “Theobroma” developed and produced by the company Dogfish Head.

 

Cacao_Aztec_Sculpture
Image 2: A statue of a man holding a cacao bean

What is Theobroma spp? The genus Theobroma is located in the family Malvaceae and contains ~20 species (“Theobroma” n.d.). The most familiar species within the genus is Theobroma cacao which translates to “food of the gods”. The seeds from this plant are used to make chocolate. This evergreen, shade grown, amazing tree is unique in that the flowers and fruit grow directly on the trunk (cauliflory). The fruit, once ripe, contains the prized seeds which are used for the modern day production of chocolate. It is truly a beautiful plant which has had a tremendous impact on human culture as described by many researchers who have searched for, recorded, and shared their finding detailing the use of this plant ancient times.

Chocolate_in_its_Rawest_Form_(27583224425).jpg
Image 3: Theobroma tree and fruit (showing pulp and seeds)

When researchers uncovered shards of pottery at the northern Honduran site of Puerto Escondido they were about to redefine the history of chocolate and inspire the creation of a “new to the modern world” chocolate drink. Archeologist identified these vessel shards at the site as having a “long neck” (think “long neck” beer bottles). The presence of the “neck” was an indicator that foam was not a component of the liquid stored within this container (Henderson 3). The process of pouring the cacao mixture between two containers to create foam was previously believed to be the way in which cacao drinks were first consumed (Henderson 3). The sample of a spouted (“long neck”) vessel (4DK-136 – Type name: Barraca Brown), based on radiocarbon dating, showed that the process of consumption involved fermentation to produce an alcoholic beverage (beer). This would now be the earliest known use of cacao from anywhere in the world, and via radiocarbon dating, scientists could now date this vessel to the Ocotillo phase (1400-1100 B.C.) (Henderson 2). Further chemical analysis of this vessel, using chromatographic and mass spectrometric analyses showed the presence if theobromine and caffeine (Henderson 3). These two compounds are found in Theobroma spp. and proved that these vessels once held a drink made from the plant Theobroma. The research conducted by John S. Henderson, Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick McGovern not only shifted the date for first cacao consumption (by humans) back 500 years, but they also established that, in all likelihood, that the method for the consumption of cacao began with the fermentation of the pulp to create an alcoholic beverage, and that the use of the cacao seeds, and the method for producing “foam”, did not occur until hundreds of years later.

F_Richardson_redrawing
Image 4: (Re)drawing of the Barraca Brown bottle from northern Honduras by Florance Richardson 2017 (original drawing by Yolanda Tovar)

The invention of a new “ancient beer” could not have happened without the collaboration between Dr. Patrick McGovern (the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, where he is also an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology) and the folks from Dogfish Head Brewery. Dr. McGovern is not only an incredible archeologist, but he is also reproducing drinks of the past for modern day consumption. The collaboration between Dr. McGovern and the brewers from Dogfish Head demonstrates how science and intuition, blended together, can have amazing results.

“Since it proved impossible to transport the fresh fruit without spoilage from Honduras, we did the next best thing. We were able to obtain chocolate nibs and powder from the premier area of Aztec chocolate production, Soconusco, the first such dark chocolate to be imported into the States in centuries (Askinosie Chocolate in Missouri). As you drink this luscious beverage–almost like a fine Scotch or Port–you will pick up the aroma of the cacao and hints of the ancho chili in the aftertaste. Any bitterness of the chocolate is offset by the honey and corn. Achiote colors it red. It was fermented with an American ale yeast.” (Dr. Patrick E. McGovern, “Theobroma”).

Do we now have in our possession the ancient recipe used to brew beer with cacao? The recipe used to create “Theobroma” beer uses the wealth of knowledge gained by understanding and studying ancient artifacts, writings, and through chemical analyses conducted on the pottery uncovered during archeological excavations and historical studies, but even with this wealth of knowledge, we will never know for sure how the drinks prepared by the ancients tasted or the precise measurements and ingredients used to create them. However, with the use of science and craftsmanship we can certainly come close to tasting these “ancient brews”.

Theobroma was a limited release from Dogfish Head, but please enjoy the following video in which Dogfish Head brewer Sam Calagione describes how lovely this ancient brew tastes.

Video 1: Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione on the brewery’s Ancient Ale Theobroma.

References:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007 http://www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937 Accessed on 8 March 2017

 McGovern, Patrick E., “Biomolecular Archaeology Project” https://www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/ Accessed on 8 March 2017

 McGovern, Patrick E., “Theobroma”, https://www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology1/re-created-beverages/theobroma/ Accessed on 8 March 2017

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

 Trivedi, Bijal P., “Ancient Chocolate Found in Maya “Teapot””, National Geographic, July 17, 2002,  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/07/0717_020717_TVchocolate.html Accessed on 8 March 2017

Wikipedia, “Theobroma”, n.d. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma Accessed on 10 March 2017

 Wikipedia, “Theobroma cacao”, n.d. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao Accessed on 8 March 2017

 Multimedia Sources:

 Image 1: Dogfish Head Theobroma https://www.flickr.com/photos/julishannon/3006530318/in/photolist-5zFfHC-5eg55n-a4nn57-6tkSc5-6T39ix-6tXNV9-6GT3Tw-6NZdi1-5trpAn-5eksFw-5eg2Di-Drdr2g-7K5CQH-9Ni1br-6FT3ub

 Image 2: Wikimedia Commons, Cacao Aztec Sculpture, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacao_Aztec_Sculpture.jpg Accessed 10 March 2017

 Image 3: Wikimedia Commons, Theobroma tree and fruit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_in_its_Rawest_Form_(27583224425).jpg

 Image 4: Author owned, (Re)drawing of the Barraca Brown bottle from northern Honduras by Florance Richardson 2017 (original drawing by Yolanda Tovar)

 Video: Quick Sip Clips by Dogfish Head: Theobromahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtXCJjJz6sI Accessed on 10 March 2017

 

 

Stimulating Relationships

The indulgence that we know as chocolate has its roots in a South American tree that can not exist without a symbiotic partner. Originating in the upper Amazonian River basin, as an understory tree of the rainforest, Theobroma cacao is a fascinating plant. Pollinated by a single type of insect, colorful melon like pods are full of sweet pulp and bitter seeds–which we refer to today as “beans.” These hefty pods have to attract the assistance of a hungry monkey, Toucan, or human to release the beans and the next generation of trees. Monkeys and birds like the sweet pulp, but when it comes to humans, we became addicted to the bean.

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Cacao pods often grow in groups and can be many different colors.

T.cacao migrated northward along the Pacific coast to take hold in a place that is now Central America. Although the details of the journey between continents is a mystery, the first evidence in the historical record that cacao was used as a food source is found in the Rio Ceniza Valley of modern El Salvador. (Martin)

Chemical analysis of pottery shows the Olmec culture made cacao pulp into an intoxicating beer-type drink at least 1000 years before the current era. Eventually the cacao bean byproduct fermented into its own food source and began to resemble chocolate–at least in its crudest liquid form. (Henderson) In the rural communities of the region today you can still find sweet pulpy drinks as well as meal-replacing beverages made from ground cacao beans and maize. These traditional ground bean beverages are bitter, filling, and stimulating enough to provide a morning or afternoon energy boost which keeps the drink popular despite being labor intensive to prepare. The stimulating caffeine and theobromine compounds that the Olmec people unlocked from the cacao bean became a driving force for the political relations and trade between nations until Cortez arrives in the modern era–usurping the entire region and economy for the Spanish crown.

The Classic Maya Civilization (250-900 CE) raised the imbibing of the rustic, gritty, cacao bean drink to a godly level. The artwork they left behind tells the story of how cacao was literally considered to be the food of their pantheon and used in rituals for pivotal moments in society and life. In The New Taste of Chocolate, Presilla points out that “from both the glyphs and actual pictured scenes on Maya posts we have been able to learn that chocolate made using particular recipes was drunk by kings and nobles. There is also evidence that it was used by people of all classes, particularly during rites of passage…” (12) 

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 Mayan drinking vase documents one particular event.

The gourds that most people used for drinking have not withstood the impacts of time but some ceramic vessels of the wealthy remain intact. These colorful jewels of Western Hemisphere art document the details about ritual life by describing events, attendees, and even the ingredients. Many of these vessels can be seen in art collections today; the Mayan drinking vase on display in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a fine example of storytelling. Slightly larger than a modern quart jar, the drinking vase has a wrap-around visual narrative that details a ritual, specifically noting out that kakaw (cacao) was one of the stimulating substances used in this event.

Mayan Interpretive dignage MFA

Although the Mayan people still live in the same region today, they mysteriously abandoned their cities around 900 CE and were eventually conquered by the Aztec civilization. Cacao beans not only survived the invasion from the north, they could well have been the cause. The Aztecs so valued the stimulating substance that they used dried beans as coinage to exchange for produce, meat, and other locally available consumables.

small and large cacao bean
The size and quality of a cacao bean determined its worth in the Aztec economy.

Unfortunately for the Aztecs, though their money grew on trees, those trees did not grow on the arid plateau that was the center of their empire. They solved this dilemma by strategically conquering trade routes into regions where cacao was cultivated. The wealth of these conquered regions was then extracted by political tribute–much of which was paid in the form of fermented cacao beans. This cacao wealth was then added into the Aztec economy both by putting it onto the consumable market and by stockpiling it as currency in treasuries. Used throughout their empire as form of payment and a beverage of celebration, cacao was also milled into portable nuggets to use as traveling rations for instant energy. The earliest documents of the Spanish settlers refer to how the native culture prepared cacao with maize into a cold frothy beverage that was used as a meal replacement in the extreme heat of the subtropical afternoons. (Presilla 17-24)  Cacao literally fueled both the people of the working class and the general economy well into the Spanish colonial period.

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Anasazi vessels are reminiscent in shape to the Mayan.

Recently have we discovered the literal lengths that native peoples went to in acquiring this stimulating beverage. Modern gas chromatography analysis on Native American pottery has increased our understanding of which cultures had access to the only source of theobromine in the hemisphere. Testing of North American artifacts has shown that long before the Aztecs usurped the market on cacao, the trade routes of the Mayans had extended northward to the Anasazi nation of modern New Mexico. This 1200-mile path between where the vessels were found (in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon)  and the nearest source of cacao would have required 600 hours of backpacking through rough country and sweltering heat. As one researcher phrased it “That’s a long way to go for something that you don’t need for survival”, [something] that’s more of a delicacy…”  Whether the Anasazi acquired this cacao through dedicated treks south–which would have taken weeks–or their pueblo was the endpoint of an even slower hand-to-hand, village-to-village trade route, acquiring the ingredients for a cacao beverage came at great cost. (Mozdy) Such an expenditure indicates how intensely desired this addictive substance was.  

The historical record may not tell us how the first cacao trees made their way to a new continent, but we do know that once here, it helped fuel people, economies and trade for centuries. The stimulant properties that the seed contains spurred the native cultures of a continent to covet, acquire, distribute and control access to the plant itself. By affecting and connecting with humans in this way, the plant forged a symbiotic partnership with the indigenous peoples which ensured its survival and success throughout pre-Columbian era.  

Works Referenced:

Henderson, John S., et al. “Chemical and Archaeological Evidence for the Earliest Cacao Beverages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 16 Nov. 2007, www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

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

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.” 8 Feb. 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

Mozdy, Michael. “Cacao in Chaco Canyon.” Natural History Museum of Utah, Natural History Museum of Utah, 4 Aug. 2017, nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/08/04/cacao-chaco-canyon. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Unknown. Anasazi [Pueblo] pottery, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New MexicoAMNH Digital Special Collections, accessed March 06, 2017, lbry-web-007.amnh.org/digital/items/show/38991.

Unknown. Drinking Vase for “om kakaw”. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.

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Images may not be reused without attribution.