Tag Archives: Theobromine

Meet Theo

Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.

Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius,  and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.

cacao tree
Cacao Tree

Factors affecting the cacao industry:

Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.

Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.

Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.

Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!

How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it. 

Early entrepreneurs:

I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.

IMG_7359
Dorothy Jones, 1670

 

The role of chocolate:

Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended. Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews. 

I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.

Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.

“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.

“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.

imgres
Stereotype

I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.

nha-benta-chocolate-quente-748x499
Frothy cacao drink

Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.

Key words: comfort, craving, frothy drinks, stereotypes

My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.

“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.

For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.

Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.

Key words: comfort, childhood, vacations, holidays

Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same!  I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!

My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.

Key words: craving, comfort, childhood memories, halloween

Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.

According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.

All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report that  they are very interested in learning more. I  realized that I  need to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.

Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.

Works cited

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139

Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.

Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.

Hudson, Bradford. “The Cradle of American Hospitality » Boston Hospitality Review | Blog Archive | Boston University.” Boston Hospitality Review RSS, 2012, www.bu.edu/bhr/2012/09/01/the-cradle-of-american-hospitality/

Bittman, Mark. “What’s Wrong with What We Eat.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Dec. 2007, www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.

“Scientists Say Climate Change May Make Chocolate Extinct By 2050.” YouTube, 2 Jan. 2018, youtu.be/sm9kQdKOnKE.

City of Boston (1881). A Report of the Record Commissioners of the

City of Boston, Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.

Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, Page 58

(Mass.)., Boston. “A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston Containing the Boston Records from 1660 to 1701.” HathiTrust, 2018, babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=bc.ark%3A%2F13960%2Ft3514s13f%3Bview.

Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC Press, 2004.

“Challenges.” Challenges | World Cocoa Foundation, 2018, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/challenges/.

CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.” CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.

“Chocolate Makers Warn That the World Is Running out of Chocolate.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 17 Nov. 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2014/11/17/chocolate-makers-warn-that-world-is-running-out-chocolate.html.

“Cocoa Bean Production” , Cargill, 2018, http://www.cargill.com/sustainability/cocoa/the-changing-world-of-cocoa

“The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery.” The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery, Brethen Voices, 2012, youtu.be/p8j2l-3TxTg.

 

Pre Columbian customs and beliefs involving cacao and chocolate

In today’s society, chocolate is a well known commodity that many people associate with sweetness and romance. A key ingredient in the making of chocolate is cacao. When people think about chocolate, they think of a sweet treat with European origins from places such as Switzerland. However, many people are often unaware that cacao was believed to be discovered in early Mesoamerican civilizations. These civilizations also had quite a different view of cacao and chocolate than the modern view. They viewed these items as luxury goods given to them by the gods and used them for more than simply eating. Cacao and chocolate were used in religious rituals, marriage rituals, and even used to cure illness. The Mayans viewed chocolate so fondly that they would have a yearly festival to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah.

Cacao can be traced all the way back to the Mesoamerican civilizations. According to Magnus Pharao Hansen, cacao was seen as luxury crop during this time period and it provided theobromine for the nervous system after a labor process of cultivation and processing. This evidence allows us to understand that Mesoamerica was becoming a civilization, moving past the stages of just necessities and creating class division and hierarchy. The image to the right shows vessels with residue of pasted image 0theobromine, which is an ingredient in cacao. This shows us that chocolate was becoming a big attraction in civilizations such as the Olmecs. Other civilizations such as Mayans and Aztecs have records that show a strong presence of cacao and chocolate.Documents such as the Dresden Codex, Madrid Codex, and ParisCodex (shown on the right) were in hieroglyphics and have cacao featured throughout, often being consumed by gods in ritual activities. Evidently, cacao was viewed by the MesoamDresden_codex_page_2erican people as more than just a food item, but rather a sacred item given to them by the gods. According to historian Marcy Norton, cacao was viewed in a religious setting as essential to one’s physical, social, and spiritual well- being. During this time as well, many marriage customs involved the presence of cacao. The Mayan marriage rituals had the husband serve chocolate to the father of the girl he wanted to marry and discuss the marriage. Cacao was also used in customs involved death. The rites of death referred to cacao that was dyed red and helped ease the soul’s journey to the underworld. Cacao was used in beverages, as well, during the time of the Mayans. Chocolate beverages were viewed as sacred drinks with the foam being the most important part of the beverage. The beverages were able to boost energy for people due to the caffeine in the chocolate. Usually, it was men of royalty and elite status who consumed chocolate through beverages, while women and children were not allowed to drink the cacao. This is because they viewed it as an intoxicating food. Eventually, cacao and chocolate were being used for medicinal purposes. In the Mayan civilization, cacao was used for digestion and as an anti- inflammatory. In the Aztec civilization, cacao was used to cure infections and illnesses. As Teresa L. Dillinger states, “Childhood diarrhea was treated with a prescription that used five cacao beans. These were ground and blended with the root of tlayapoloni xiuitl (unknown plant) and then drunk. To relieve fever and faintness the prescription called for 8–10 cacao beans to be ground with dried maize kernels and blended with tlacoxochitl.” (Dillinger et al, 2060S) While the uses for chocolate expanded far beyond social use and pleasure, cacao still had an effect on the social landscape of the Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mayans had words such as “chokola’j”, which is translated to “to drink chocolate together”. Cacao had quite a special effect on people and played an important role in society and still does to this day.

Clearly, there were many customs and beliefs that the Pre Columbian civilizations had involving chocolate and cacao. The influence chocolate was able to have on these civilizations was immense and impacted their everyday lives. Many aspects of life were changed socially, religiously, and physically. Cacao and chocolate were able to change social interactions and physical treatments of people. People in the Mesoamerican civilizations used chocolate during many marriage, death, and religious rituals. As shown in lecture, foods and beverages such as the one shown on the right, still use the influence of earlresizey civilizations in order to sell products. The description of this beverage states, “Recommended served warm (106°), this delicious and relaxing beverage was blended to revive the delicacies and keen insights of the ancient Aztec tribes of Central America. Passed from generation to generation, our take on this blessed drink brings you the sensational benefits of anti-oxidant rich cacao and the powerful digestion aid blend of spices to create a tasty healthful experience.” With this description, we can clearly see how the Mayans and Aztecs views on chocolate still influence the modern global chocolate market. Due to the significance of cacao in the Mesoamerican society, chocolate has played a major role in the lives of many people and continues to have a major influence all over the world.

Hansen, Magnus Pharao. “Cacao: How a Single Word Holds the Key to Understanding the Mesoamerican Past.” Nawatl Scholar, 1 Jan. 1970, nahuatlstudies.blogspot.com/2015/01/cacao-how-contested-history-of-single.html?spref=tw.

Dillinger, Teresa L., et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 130, no. 8, 2000, doi:10.1093/jn/130.8.2057s.

St Jean, Julie. “Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses for Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses For Chocolate in Mesoamercia, 9 Feb. 2018, http://www.heritagedaily.com/2018/02/medicinal-and-ritualistic-uses-for-chocolate-in-mesoamerica-2/98809.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods,’”

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.”

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.

 

Health vs. Profit – The Conflicting Responses by Scientists and Chocolate Companies to Advances in Scientific Understanding

Nutritionists and those in the food industry often find themselves with opposing opinions with regards to health and nutrition. It is often argued by chocolate companies that scientists do not have as strong of a grasp on the science of chocolate as they would lead you to believe (Nestle), and scientists argue that the food companies are too concerned with profits to care about the health of their consumers. Currently, nutritionists suggest limiting the consumption of candy and other high-in-sugar products. However, the scientific community’s stance on chocolate consumption has shifted with time – new advances in scientific understanding cause nutritionists to update their previous suggestions to better reflect the information available. Chocolate companies, in turn, are quick to point out how rapidly the nutritionists’ suggestions change, neglecting to mention how minute their updates may be. As the understanding of the nutritional effects of chocolate and sugar on humans has evolved, the scientific community has updated its suggestions on what individuals should be eating; however, chocolate companies have put much efforts into undermining the scientific advancements, both by attacking the credibility of scientific advancements, and by trying to persuade their customers that their products are healthier than they are.

To better understand the science of chocolate, it is important to discuss the perceived health benefits chocolate has had historically. Societies native to Mesoamerica, such as the Olmec and Mayan societies, consumed chocolate as early 1100BC (Squicciarini). The Aztec society thought cocoa pods were able to provide nourishment, fertility, and even an increased sex drive (Squicciarini). However, while “chocolate” in name, this chocolate is notably different than the chocolate we think of today. As the Mesoamerican chocolate migrated to Europe, chocolate began its human-induced evolution, as the Europeans added their own elements to chocolate, to fit their sweeter appetite, and extracted cocoa products (Squicciarini). Even still, this chocolate is not the chocolate we typically see in grocery stores. In the 17th century, European academics began considering chocolate as a remedy for certain illnesses. It is important to note here, however, that the illnesses of seventeenth century Europe were vastly different than those of modern day America. Twenty-first century health in America is characterized by obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses associated with overeating. However, in the seventeenth century, Europe often faced food shortages, and a much more common ailment was undernutrition (Lyons). Chocolate was considered a high-caloric food, and as such was able to fight malnutrition. Since the hallmark health characteristics of the seventeenth century are different than in today’s society, it seems rather silly to suggest that our chocolate could serve as a medicine in the same way. Moving into more modern times, chocolate has undergone even more changes. As our society built up a taste for sweetness, sugar was added in high amounts to chocolate, reducing its bitterness. Before 1914, hot chocolate drinks had nutritional value of high fat content and protein content, and were among the only hot drinks to have such properties (Squicciarini) Then, the Spanish started sweeting it with sugar cane, vanilla, and cinnamon, increasing its popularity drastically (Squicciarini). And even then, there were health concerns regarding chocolate. A characteristic ingredient of chocolate is theobromine, which is classified as a psychoactive alkaloid. This is the same class of molecules as nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine, and is often attributed to their addictive properties (Clarence-Smith). Let us take a look at both theobromine and caffeine.

Caffeine vs. Theobromine
Caffeine vs. Theobromine (Holsclaw)

Caffeine is a compound that is thought of as addicting (as well as vital for most college students). Its effect is greatly due to the fact that it greatly resembles the molecule cyclic adenine monophosphate (cAMP). cAMP helps expedite the process of delivering oxygen to the brain, and maintains blood pressure, both of which are important for remaining alert (i.e. feeling awake). The enzyme cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (cAMP-PDE) recognizes cAMP as its substrate, and will break the molecule down, resulting in the feeling of drowsiness. The enzyme cAMP-PDE has evolved to recognize the cAMP, a naturally-occurring molecule in our bodies (unlike caffeine), (Spoto). Since cAMP and caffeine resemble each other chemically, cAMP-PDE is not able to distinguish the two, and thus can spend its time breaking down caffeine instead of cAMP (Montoya). In other words, the part of our body that is responsible for making us tired (cAMP-PDE) has to waste its time breaking down the wrong molecule (caffeine), so our bodies can maintain higher levels of the molecule that helps maintain alertness (cAMP). This is actually how many psychoactive alkaloids work in terms of alertness (Horrigan). When the similarities between caffeine and theobromine were first discovered, many nutritionists compared chocolate to cocaine, and suggested minimizing its use (Wilson). Despite its similar structure, however, theobromine is unable to perform this same function. Theobromine and caffeine do look very similar to humans, and have somewhat similar reactivities, yet are not the same molecule, (Beckett). cAMP-PDE is not able to recognize theobromine, in part because it is a smaller molecule, and unable to fit into the enzyme as well as caffeine, or its natural substrate cAMP, (Spoto). The addictive properties of chocolate have previously been placed on theobromine’s classification as a psychoactive alkaloid, but this is not able to cause the explained effect.

Instead, the reason chocolate can seem so addicting lies in a different class of molecules, called saccharides, more commonly referred to as sugar. Americans are commonly said to be addicted to sugar, and add excessive amounts of sugar to everything. Sugar is commonly being added to more and more foods, and those foods are increasing in their sugar content over time (Hyde). Our chocolate products’ sugar content is increasing (Hegelman), and our modern-day scientists and nutritionists are alarmed (Nestle). Scientific studies have consistently warned us of the dangers of excessive sugar (diabetes, obesity, etc.), and as new research is performed, the results are increasingly worrying (Squicciarini). However, chocolate companies put an interesting spin on this – they claim that the new results in the scientific research must contradict each other, and as such are unreliable (Nestle). They also point out that different studies measure health through different techniques, and since it isn’t uniform, it must be open to interpretation. It is a quite brilliant strategy actually, to claim that the data presented by the scientific community, the data which scientists themselves admit to updating, is too inconsistent to be worth reducing chocolate consumption. These chocolate companies rely on the consumers to not fully understand the research, and agree with their argument that the scientific figures change with each update, instead of realizing that each update creates further evidence for limiting our chocolate intake. They are thus able to present themselves as more easily understood, and no less credible. This allows these companies within the chocolate industry to claim that no foods are inherently “bad,” and that dieting and nutritional advice is too variable by the individual to be applied so broadly. This continues the theme of scientific advancement reshaping the nutritional food pyramid into the future, as the chocolate companies are attempting to immobilize our consumption patterns, in direct opposition of nutritionists creating a change over time in our consumption patterns to help keep us more nourished.

However, this is not to say that chocolate companies are totally void of arguments involving science. Many chocolate companies use science in their advertisements to attempt to trick the consumer by using scientific and nutrition buzz-words that actually have very little meaning. First, to discuss this point, it is necessary to distinguish between two terms: chocolate and confectionery. Chocolate companies advertise themselves as chocolate companies, but focus most of their attention on chocolate confectionery. Chocolate is defined as “A preparation of the seeds of cacao, roasted, husked, and ground, often sweetened and flavored, as with sugar and vanilla,” (Martin), while confectionery refers to sweet foods, often sweetened with sugar. A more representative title of companies such as Hershey’s and Mars would be “confectionery companies,” rather than chocolate companies. This distinction is important because there are health benefits associated with chocolate that are not associated with confectionery. For example, chocolates have high polyphenol and methylxanthine contents (Ackar), both of which are antioxidants, and associated with antiviral, antiallergenic, and anti-inflammatory properties, among other beneficial characteristics (Manach). This is something which chocolate companies love to advertise, but is less significant than they claim (Squicciarini). By using chocolate in their confectionery products, these companies are accurate in claiming their product has these properties. However, when discussing this feature in chocolate in their advertisements, they fail to establish that the “chocolate bar” they are selling is not entirely chocolate, but instead has a certain (and often small) amount of chocolate in it. Looking at this Hershey’s advertisement shows how they use this sneaky tactic in promoting their brand.

Hershey's Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement
Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement (Hershey’s)

Here, Hershey’s states “antioxidants in the chocolate reduce free radicals in your body and keep your skin looking younger longer.” While this information is not false, it is presented in a misconstruing way. The advertisement makes it seem as if their Hershey’s Kiss has a particularly high content of these antioxidants, and discusses their existence rather than their concentration or effectiveness. This is not an isolated incident within the food industry, many other advertising campaigns utilize similar scientific inexactitudes. Many products are advertised as “reduced sugar,” “whole grain first ingredient,” etc. Each of these phrases are buzz-words that seem to imply either an added degree of nutrition, or a lesser degree of unhealthy ingredients. And while these statements are technically truthful, these facts are rarely as relevant as they would appear. For example, when a chocolate company claims that its product has reduced its sugar content, that often means that the products’ sugar has been replaced with a sugar-like ingredient. Let us take the example of Heinz’ Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. While their ingredients list does not list “sugar” anywhere, it instead includes the ingredient sucralose, a sugar derivative (Schober). It even specifies that sucralose is not an ingredient that they regularly include. Sucralose is an artificial sugar whose safety is still disputed within the scientific community: it has been shown to increase the pH level in the intestines (Abou-Donia), and increase body weight, levels of P-glycoprotein, and risk of leukemia (CSPI), and even DNA damage (Sasaki) in rats. And while some of these scientific studies have been contested, they are often done so by those invested in the products. For example, Trevor Butterworth claims, in vague terms, that these studies are inaccurate, and that it is important to “scrutinize the data,” (Butterworth). However, Butterworth has a history of attacking scientific research in the world of nutrition, and is known to have connections with GMO companies, who produce the products he defends (Malkan).

Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup
Heinz’ Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup (Coach Calorie)
Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup
Heinz’ Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup (Coach Calorie)

 

 

 

 

And this brings us back to the chocolate companies. They use scientific wording (inaccurately, mostly) when it suits them, and then attack (with vague wording and emotional claims) any science that opposes their views. This is not a tactic unique to the chocolate industry, but in fact was perfected by the tobacco industry beforehand. Marion Nestle examines the sales strategies within the tobacco industry in her book Food Politics. She states that “Cigarettes use science to sow confusion about the harm that cigarettes can cause,” (Nestle), in addition to techniques of targeting children, the impoverished, and expanding their market globally. This parallels how the chocolate industry, and the greater food industry, market their products. Just as tobacco targeted children in their advertisements, chocolate and fast-food companies do the same, through television advertisements, product placement in media, internet advertisements, and even within their schools (Story). And just as tobacco companies expanded their markets internationally, the chocolate industries are competing for China’s chocolate market (Martin) Just as the tobacco companies had great success, chocolate companies are seeing similar results (Story). As children are making more demands on their parents for chocolate confectionery products they see on television, their parents’ relent with the result that children are consuming much higher levels of sugar (Story) Nestle does discuss how to prevent this, by citing the largely successful anti-smoking campaigns. She discusses the four pillars of the anti smoking campaigns: the firm research base that smoking does cause cancer, the clear message telling consumers not to smoke, the clear strategy for intervention focusing on smokers and nonsmokers alike, and strategies that do more than just address education, but address cultural measures as well (such as taxing cigarettes and preventing them in restaurants). She puts forth a proposal on how to do the same for the fast food and confectionery companies which mirrors the anti-smoking campaign. However, attempts to reduce the appeal of high-caloric food advertising has been met with opposition – the FTC was restricted in their ability to censor TV advertisements in backlash to their proposal to prevent inaccurate claims by food companies directed at children (Story).

The scientific understanding of both chocolate and sugar has grown considerably since the introduction of chocolate in Mesoamerica, yet this science is often overlooked. The companies who stand to profit off of the sales of chocolate confectionery attempt to discredit any science that would hinder their sales, while advertising their own products through the use of overly-simplified, and thus irrelevant scientific oversimplifications. Chocolate is not inherently a toxin to be avoided at all costs (assuming you aren’t a dog), but chocolate confectionery is much more processed sugars than the original cocoa it derives from and is named after. The pursuit of scientific advancement, and of scientific inquiry on the individual level is vital to avoid falling victim to false claims, such that every chocoholic can know exactly what he or she is ingesting.

 

Works Cited:

Ackar, Djurdjica, et al. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).

Abou-Donia, Mohamed B., et al. “Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 71.21 (2008): 1415-1429.

Beckett, Sheilah. The science of chocolate. Vol. 22. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000.

Browning, Lynnley. “New Salvo in Splenda Skirmish.” The New York Times: Business Day. N.p., 22 Sept. 2008. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Butterworth, Trevor. “Controversial Italian Scientist Says Splenda Causes Cancer.” Forbes. N.p., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. Cocoa and chocolate, 1765-1914. Routledge, 2003.

CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Caution” to “Avoid” – New Animal Study Indicates Cancer Risk.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

CSPI. “CSPI Downgrades Sucralose from “Safe” to “Caution” – Group Cites Need to Evaluate Forthcoming Italian Study Linking Artificial Sweetener to Leukemia in Mice.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.

Hegelman, Carl. “How the Snickers Bar Changed Over Time.” Web log post. The Billfold. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2017.

Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kiss Advertisement. Digital image. Hershey’s. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Heinz’ Annotated Ingredients of Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Heinz’ Annotated Reduced Sugar Tomato Ketchup. Digital image. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Holsclaw, Cindy. Caffeine vs. Theobromine. Digital image. Bead Origami. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017. <http://beadorigami.blogspot.com/2013/03/chocolate-molecules.html&gt;.

Horrigan, Louise A., John P. Kelly, and Thomas J. Connor. “Immunomodulatory effects of caffeine: friend or foe?.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 111.3 (2006): 877-892.

Hyde, Dan. “Does your breakfast cereal contain more sugar than before?” The Telegraph. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Lyons, Albert S. “Medical History — The Seventeenth Century.” HealthGuidance for Better Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Malkan, Stacy. “Trevor Butterworth Spins Science for Industry.” Web log post. U.S. Right to Know. N.p., 12 Dec. 2016. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Manach, Claudine, et al. “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 79.5 (2004): 727-747.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 1: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: The rise of big chocolate and the race for the global market.” Harvard, Cambridge, MA. 8 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Montoya, Gina A., et al. “Modulation of 3′, 5′-cyclic AMP homeostasis in human platelets by coffee and individual coffee constituents.” British Journal of Nutrition 112.09 (2014): 1427-1437.

Nestle, Marion, and Michael Pollan. Food politics: how the food industry influences nutrition and health. Berkeley, CA: U of California Press, 2013. Print.

Sasaki, Yu F., et al. “The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives.” Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis 519.1 (2002): 103-119.

Spoto, G., et al. “Caffeine, theophylline and bamifylline are similar as competitive inhibitors of 3′, 5′-cyclic amp phosphodiesterase in vitro.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF IMMUNOPATHOLOGY AND PHARMACOLOGY 10.2 (1997): 153-158.

Schober, Tony. “10 Ways Food Advertising Tricks are Misleading You.” Web log post. Coach Calorie. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Story, Mary, and Simone French. “Food advertising and marketing directed at children and adolescents in the US.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 1.1 (2004): 3.

Squicciarini, Mara P., and Johan F. M. Swinnen. The economics of chocolate. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2016. Print.

Wilson, Philip K., and W. Jeffrey Hurst, eds. Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015.

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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) 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

Image Citation:

Images may not be reused without attribution.

Functional Chocolate: Health Claims and Marketing Campaigns

One step into Cambridge Naturals, a community natural health store in Cambridge, MA, and the market for organic, fair-trade, vegan, bean-to-bar, local, non-gmo, paleo, environmentally friendly and ethically sourced chocolate products is on full display. A meeting with the store’s manager & grocery lead adds another term to the list of qualities their consumer base is looking for when they step into the store – functional chocolate. This trend shows a probable correlation between what customers are willing to spend on chocolate that makes health claims, based on the way the cacao is processed and additional ingredients added that are promoted to provide nutritional benefits. The functional chocolate trend begs the question – are these health claims regarding various methods of cacao processing and healthful additives substantiated by scientific research, or are they merely a marketing gimmick? This article will analyze recent research on the health benefits of chocolate as a functional food, look at fermentation and processing differences from a nutrient perspective, and consider additional benefits of medicinal additives to chocolate in order to best answer this question.

 

How are functional foods different from healthy foods?

In a study published in the Academic Food Journal/Akademik (2014) that looked at the development of functional chocolate, the differences between health foods and functional foods were defined as the following:

“Functional foods are a new category of products that promise consumers improvements in targeted physiological functions” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

Whereas, “conventional ‘healthy’ foods are typically presented as types of foods contributing to a healthy diet, e.g. low-fat products, high-fibre products, or vegetables, without emphasizing the role of any single product” (Albak, Fatma, & Tekin, 2014, p. 19).

 

Functional foods share these characteristics:

  • Health benefits that can be linked to a specific product
  • Well-defined physiological effects are directly connected with particular components in the specific product
  • Scientific evidence about health effects that is used to develop specific functional products
  • There is novelty for the consumer with the promised benefits
  • Modern technology is often needed to manufacture the functional foods due to specific components being added, modified or removed (Albak, et al., 2014).

 

Demand for Functional Foods

The market for functional foods exists in large part due to the rising popularity of healthier products by consumers (Albak, et al., 2014). One contributor to interest in healthy products is their use as a remedy to detrimental lifestyle factors that can contribute to unyielding high levels of inflammation in the body (Jain, Parag, Pandey, & Shukla, 2015). In the book, Inflammation and Lifestyle (2015), the connection between diet and inflammation is emphasized.

“Our diet is one of the leading sources of these chronic illnesses, and changing the diet is the key to prevention and cure. A number of dietary factors, including fiber-rich foods, whole grains, fruits (especially berries), omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (e.g., C and E), and certain trace minerals (e.g., zinc), have been documented to reduce blood concentrations of inflammatory markers. The best way to correct and eliminate inflammation is to improve comprehensive lifestyle and dietary changes rather than taking pharmaceutical drugs, the latter of which can cause unintended harm in the form of damaging side effects” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 143).

The authors provide this graphic to illustrate what an anti-inflammatory diet pyramid looks like in terms of specific food groups. Note that dark chocolate is positioned on the top of the pyramid.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.51.38 PM
“Anti-inflammatory edible’s pyramid” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144)

An introduction to the benefits of superfoods and their role in an anti-inflammatory diet are explained in the publication. “An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, sprouts, nuts and superfoods. Maca, spirulina, purple corn, wheatgrass, coconut butter and raw chocolate are a few of the health promoting superfoods that are gaining international interest” (Jain, et al., 2015, p. 144). The inclusion of “raw chocolate” in the category of superfoods versus “chocolate” warrants further examination and will be explored later in this article, but the position remains clear that evidence supports the protective benefits of chocolate as a part of a healthy diet.

 

Chocolate as a Functional Food

Under the category of functional foods as previously defined, chocolate, as will be further described, fulfills all the requisite characteristics. Even though the term functional food is relatively recent, the practice of consuming chocolate for its specific health benefits is centuries old. “Chocolate has been consumed as confection, aphrodisiac, and folk medicine for many years before science proved its potential health benefiting effects. Main compounds of cocoa and chocolate which contribute to human health are polyphenols that act as antioxidants and have potential anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, antihepatotoxic, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic properties” (Ackar, Djurdjica, Lendić, Valek,… & Nedić, 2013, p. 1). The studied physiological effects of chocolate include “reported health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate particularly focus on cardiovascular diseases (but also showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects), including increased blood flow at the brachial artery and the left descending coronary artery, decreased blood pressure, decreased platelet aggregation and increased HDL cholesterol” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Numerous research discoveries have shed light on the complex nature of how these protective benefits of cacao are reduced or encouraged by different methods of sourcing, processing and consuming chocolate (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008).

Polyphenols are found in many food sources including, “vegetables and fruits, green and black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, and some herbs and spices, as well as nuts and algae” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). However, “chocolate is one of the most polyphenol-rich foods along with tea and wine” where, “results [have] indicated that dark chocolate exhibited the highest polyphenol content” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2194). In unfermented cacao beans, there are three main groups of polyphenols, “flavan-3-ols or catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Differences in cacao genetics or varieties and country of origin show varying levels of polyphenols by up to 4-fold (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008). “Criollo cultivars contained higher levels of procyanidins than Forastero and Trinitario beans. In addition, crop season and country of origin have impact on polyphenols in cocoa beans” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Findings regarding polyphenol level by country of origin are contentious but include, “highest phenolic content was in Malaysian beans followed by Sulawesian, Ghanian and Côte d’Ivore” (Jalil, & Ismail, 2008, p. 2201) and “cocoa beans and processed products from Ecuador showed the highest levels of anthocyanins, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840). Due to additional factors besides country of origin and genetic variation influencing the polyphenols in cacao, inclusion of the effects of processing cacao on flavor and polyphenol content is important to understand health claims made regarding the finished product, chocolate.

Processing cacao beans (namely the stages of fermentation and drying), and roasting in the chocolate making process greatly affect polyphenol content of the finished product (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015). “Due to these factors, the ratio and types of these components found in cocoa beans are unlikely to be the same as those found in the finished products” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 841). For functional chocolate enthusiasts driving market trends, the balance between healthy and protective benefits of polyphenols and the effects on their levels through processing are of particular interest. “All these processes are needed to develop characteristic cocoa aroma. Polyphenols give astringent and bitter aroma to cocoa and contribute to reduced perception of “cocoa flavour” by sensory panel. However, nowadays processes are conducted in such manner to preserve as much polyphenol as possible with maintaining satisfactory aroma” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). The debate about the purpose of chocolate is hereby noted between the sensory experience – the aroma development, especially in the roasting stages, versus consumption for health effects with less regard to smell, taste and gustatory pleasure.

The search for a sweet spot between these poles is a lucrative area for producers and retail establishments. As described earlier, development of functional food into specific products uses scientific evidence about health effects, where modern technology is often needed to manufacture those products, in order to observe targeted physiological effects or functions (Albak, et al., 2014).

“Generally, as cocoa beans were further processed, the levels of anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols decreased. The largest observed losses of phenolics occurred during roasting. A progressive decreasing trend in polyphenol concentration was observed in the other processed samples as well. Despite the original content of polyphenols in raw cocoa beans, technological processes imply a significant impact on cocoa quality, confirming the need of specific optimisation to obtain high value chocolate” (Bordiga, et al., 2015, p. 840).

In order to preserve antioxidant quality through dark-chocolate products with “high flavonoid contents…these chocolates are produced by controlling bean selection, fermentation, and reduced heat and alkalization treatments” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2201). Although one of the most detrimental effects of processing on polyphenol and antioxidant levels is alkalization (or dutching) of cocoa powder (Ackar, et al., 2013; Jalil, et al., 2008), even the fermentation process significantly reduces flavonoid levels by up to 90% (Jalil, et al., 2008). However, in the search for the sweet spot between flavor and health benefits, fermentation presents a way to reduce bitter compounds due to the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols (Jalil, et al., 2008) and enhance flavor before roasting or further processing like alkalization. For example, some “manufacturers tend to remove [flavonoids] in large quantities to enhance taste quality… the manufacturers tend to prefer Ghanian cocoa beans, which are well-fermented and flavorful than that of Dominican or Indonesian beans, which are considered as less fermented and have low quality cocoa flavor” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2203). In Crafack’s study (2013), besides genetic flavor potentials of cacao beans, fermentation is cited as the most important factor influencing cocoa’s flavor potential.

“A properly conducted fermentation process is considered a prerequisite for the production of high quality chocolates since inadequately fermented cocoa beans will fail to produce cocoa specific aroma compounds during subsequent processing” (Crafack, Petersen, Eskildsen, Petersen, Heimdal, & Nielsen, 2013, p. 1).

In a later study by Crafack (2014), microorganism differences between fermentation practices are shown to produce variations in cacao flavor profiles. “Despite the importance of a properly conducted fermentation process, poor post-harvest practices, in combination with the unpredictable spontaneous nature of the fermentations, often results in sub-optimal flavour development…A microbial fermentation process therefore seems essential for developing the full complexity of compounds which characterises cocoa aroma. In conclusion, the results of the present study show that the volatile aroma profile of chocolate can be influenced using starter cultures” (Crafack, 2014, p. 1). Further research that builds on Crafack’s findings was published by Kadow (2015), explaining the role of multiple factors in the country of origin that characterize the fermentation process.

“During this in most cases spontaneous fermentation of the fruit pulp surrounding the seeds, the pulp is degraded by yeasts and bacteria. This degradation results in heat and organic acid formation. Heat effect and tissue acidification are the key parameters guiding flavour precursor formation. Accordingly, not microorganisms themselves but exclusively their metabolites are necessary for successful fermentation” (Kadow, Niemenak, Rohn, and Lieberei, 2015, p. 357).

This study aimed to further the development of standardization and mechanization of cocoa fermentation for the benefit of cacao production quality purposes. On the ranges of heat tested from fermenting heaps of cacao beans, 30 °C to a maximum of 50 °C was obtained after 24 h of fermentation at the inner part of the heap (Jespersen, Nielsen, Hønholt, and Jakobsen, 2005).

Finally, as an interesting note about polyphenol changes in cacao during fermentation, although “unripe and ripe cacao pods contain solely (−)-epicatechin and (+)-catechin. During fermentation, levels of both of these compounds were reduced, but (−)-catechin was formed due to heat-induced epimerization” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). These findings warrant more studies on the changes that happen during cacao fermentation, where although certain protective antioxidant levels decrease, other chemical compounds are formed due to the process of heat due to microorganism metabolites and acidification to the bean tissue.

After fermentation, the beans are dried to reduce water content for safe transport and storage of the cacao before further processing by chocolate manufactures. “During drying, additional loss of polyphenol occurs, mainly due to nonenzymatic browning reactions” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2) where “high temperatures and prolonged processing times will decrease the amount of catechins” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p.2203). The dried cacao is then shipped to the chocolate manufacturer where roasting is often performed. The roasting and generally the further processing of cacao degrades the levels of polyphenols by triggering the oxidation process (Ackar, et al., 2013; Bordiga, et al., 2015).

Conching is a process of agitation of chocolate mass at temperatures above 50 °C that is used to refine both the cocoa solids and sugar crystals to change the taste, smell, flavor, texture (mouthfeel) and viscosity of chocolate (Chocolate Alchemy, 2016; Di Mattia, Martuscelli, Sacchetti, Beheydt, Mastrocola, & Pittia, 2014) Different procedures for conching exist, including Long Time Conching (LTC) and Short Time Conching (STC). A study by Di Mattia (2014) done on these two conching processes and the implications for bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity found interesting results. The publication stressed the importance of time/temperature combinations as process parameters “to modulate and increase the functional properties of some foods” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, pp.367-368). In the study, STC consisted of “a dry step at 90 °C for 6 h and then a wet step at 60°C for 1h,” while LTC involved, “a dry step at 60°C for 6 h and a then wet step at the same conditions (60 °C, 6 h)” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p. 368). The results of the analysis on phenolic content, antioxidant values defined as radical scavenging properties showed, “that the conching process, and the LTC in particular, determined an improvement of the antiradical and reducing properties of chocolate” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372). Recommendation for further studies was suggested to “optimize the conching process for the modulation of the functional properties,” (Di Mattia, et al., 2014, p.372) but the results remain in favor of longer time and lower temperature processing to preserve health benefits in chocolate during the conching phase.

From the perspective of chocolate makers, assessing combinations of ingredients/additives that can either help or hinder protective compounds in chocolate – including polyphenols and bioavailability, is important. Jalil, & Ismail’s review (2008), considered, “both bioavailability and antioxidant status [important] in determining the relationship between cocoa flavonoids and health benefits” (Jalil, et al., 2008, pp. 2194-2195). Studies focused on epicatechin from chocolate found the polyphenols, “rapidly absorbed by humans, with plasma levels detected after 30min of oral digestion, peaking after 2-3 h and returning to baseline after 6–8 h. In addition, cumulative effect in high daily doses was recorded” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Interestingly, an argument for the benefits of chocolate’s sweetened and rich composition – if cocoa butter and some type of sweetener is used in processing – is explained where the “presence of sugars and oils generally increases bioavailability of polyphenols, while proteins, on the other hand, decrease it” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2). Milk chocolate lovers may be disappointed to find that, “milk proteins reduce bioavailability of epicatechin in chocolate confectionary…[with] reported inhibition of in vivo antioxidant activity of chocolate by addition of milk either during manufacturing process or during ingestion” (Ackar, et al., 2013, p. 2).

Additional health properties of cacao found especially in dark chocolate, apart from polyphenols, may have a role to play in reports of chocolate cravings and their use as functional food. Theses beneficial components include “methylxanthines, namely caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2197) “peptides, and minerals” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200). “Theobromine is a psychoactive compound without diuretic effects” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2198). “Cocoa is also rich in proteins. Cocoa peptides are generally responsible for the flavour precursor formation” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2199). Lastly, “minerals are one of the important components in cocoa and cocoa products. Cocoa and cocoa products contained relatively higher amount of magnesium compared to black tea, red wine, and apples” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2200).

A well supported rule of thumb for finding high antioxidant capacity functional chocolate is to look for the percentage of non-fat cocoa solids (NFCS) in chocolate products to determine total phenolic content (Jalil, et al., 2008; Vinson, & Motisi, 2015)  “Dark chocolates contain the highest NFCS among the different types of chocolates” (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204) However, due to percentages of cocoa solids on on chocolate labels including polyphenol-free cocoa butter, the accuracy of this measure is not always correct and can lead to overestimating polyphenol content in certain types of chocolate (Jalil, et al., 2008, p. 2204). That said, a recent study by Vinson and Motisi (2015), performed on commercial chocolate bars found “a significant and linear relationship between label % cocoa solids and the antioxidant assays as well as the sum of the monomers.” From which they concluded that, “consumers can thus rationally choose chocolate bars based on % cocoa solids on the label” (Vinson, & Motisi, 2015, p. 526).

Additions to Functional Chocolate

In health food stores like Cambridge Naturals and Deborah’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, MA, the presence of functional chocolate with additional health boosting ingredients is prevalent. The validity of these claims to improve focus, enhance libido and energy, and other desirable improved physiological functions, based on herbs, powders and additional superfoods mixed with cacao, is intriguing. A study by Albak and Tekin (2014), found that mixing aniseed, ginger, and cinnamon into the dark chocolate mix before conching, “increased the total polyphenol content while they decreased the melting properties of dark chocolate after conching” (Albak, et al., 2014, p. 19).

Other resources that further elucidate specific findings on these superfoods, herbs and spices include:

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395. This publication includes information on gingko, turmeric among other additives to functional chocolate and how protective vascular effects are formed.

Ruscigno, Matt, and Joshua Ploeg. Superfoods for Life, Cacao:-Improve Heart Health-Boost Your Brain Power-Decrease Stress Hormones and Chronic Fatigue-75 Delicious Recipes. Fair Winds Press (MA), 2014.

Wolfe, David. Superfoods: the food and medicine of the future. North Atlantic Books, 2010.

 

Raw Chocolate

Some consideration for the popularity of raw chocolate, which is used as the base of many functional chocolate products, deserves attention. As explained, there are many reasons chocolate can be considered a functional food, especially due to specific health promoting compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids, peptides, theobromine and minerals present in cacao and in chocolate. Unfortunately, overwhelming scientific evidence points to the detrimental effects on these compounds from processing, especially by heat. “Flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy” (Crowe, 2015).  Raw chocolate, by the standards of raw foodism, means that food is not supposed to be heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit in order to preserve enzymes. This seems tricky to prove especially when chocolate makers receive cocoa beans from various countries of origin where fermenting and drying practices are not under their direct supervision. Some companies remedy this issue with bean-to-bar practices that ensure they have seen and approved the process that cacao beans undergo before shipment to the company’s own processing facilities, where low temperature winnowing, grinding and conching is under their complete control. The bean-to-bar method (See Taza’s Bean-to-Bar and Direct Trade process) also provides assurance that cacao is ethically (sometimes for organic and wild-crafted cacao if so desired) sourced. These initiatives often promote more sustainable and  better processed cacao, which means higher quality cacao for both the farmer, manufacturer and consumer. For these reasons, the popularity of raw cacao seems to fit into the development of functional foods where the consumer is able to enjoy a sometimes more bitter, medicinal tasting chocolate in the anticipation of a powerful physiological boost and a clearer conscience due to sourcing methods.

In the case of Yes Cacao, their Karma MellOwl botanical chocolate bar contains 41% cacao butter, and 59% botanicals which results in a deliciously complex, albeit golden colored bar due to the cocoa butter and turmeric content. Non-fat cacao solids which provide the main anti-inflammatory benefits of cacao are missing, but are replaced with other superfoods, spices and adaptogenic herbs like lucuma, maca, yacon, lion’s mane mushrooms, gingko, turmeric, pine pollen, cinnamon, bacopa, and gynostemma. The creators of the bars deem them functional medicine, as they combine cacao solids and sundried cane juice as a base for superfood and medicinal enhancements. In this video, Justin Frank Polgar recommends that Yes Cacao bars are eaten daily as a staple enhancement for ideal human functionality.

image
Cambridge Naturals’ Yes Cacao Selection

 

Other raw chocolate companies that are focus on functional chocolate using additional superfoods, spices and herbs include:

Chocolatl More Than Chocolate

Righteously Raw Chocolates

Gnosis Chocolate

Addictive Wellness Raw Chocolate

Perfect Fuel

Stirs the Soul

Ohio Functional Chocolates

Great Bean Chocolate

Sacred Chocolate

 

Trends in functional foods heading in the direction of ‘naturally healthy’

From the perspective of growers, producers and consumers who want a high quality, healthful and good tasting chocolate product, the scientific findings that support the ideal balance between flavor and preservation of health promoting properties of cacao, are significant. The ideal way to conserve protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits warrants consideration with the changes in polyphenol content during processing of cacao from raw bean, through fermentation to roasting, conching and mixing with other ingredients. Raw chocolate seems a good way to navigate this balance. Meanwhile, mass produced commercial chocolate companies or “big chocolate” continue to move their products in the direction of high quality premium chocolate and adopting new manufacturing processes in order to preserve cacao’s protective effects. The overarching trend uniting premium, natural and healthful ingredients is referred to in the food industry as naturally healthy foods. “This idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products”(Gagliardi, 2015). The melding of healthy, natural and functional foods to chocolate production reflects consumer preferences and industry recognition of the role diet plays on health and provides insights into the future of food. For now, medicinally enhanced, raw, naturally healthy, and functional chocolate seems light years ahead of other natural foods on the market today.

Examples of ‘naturally healthy’ chocolate brands:

Coracao Confections

Hu Paleo Chocolate

Eating Evolved, The Primal Dark Chocolate Company

Pure7 Chocolate

Author’s Note: While researching and writing this article the author happily consumed a great deal of functional, raw and medicinal chocolate and can attest to the powerful effects that far surpass conventional and even ‘premium chocolates’.

 

References:

Ackar, Djurdjica, Kristina Valek Lendić, Marina Valek, Drago Šubarić, Borislav Miličević, Jurislav Babić, and Ilija Nedić. “Cocoa polyphenols: can we consider cocoa and chocolate as potential functional food?.” Journal of chemistry 2013 (2013).

Albak, Fatma, and Ali Rıza Tekin. “Development of Functional Chocolate with Spices and Lemon Peel Powder by using Response Surface Method: Development of Functional Chocolate.” Academic Food Journal/Akademik GIDA 12, no. 2 (2014).

Afolabi Clement Akinmoladun, Mary, Tolulope Olaleye, and Ebenezer Olatunde Farombi. “Cardiotoxicity and Cardioprotective Effects of African Medicinal Plants.” Toxicological Survey of African Medicinal Plants (2014): 395.

Bordiga, Matteo, Monica Locatelli, Fabiano Travaglia, Jean Daniel Coïsson, Giuseppe Mazza, and Marco Arlorio. “Evaluation of the effect of processing on cocoa polyphenols: antiradical activity, anthocyanins and procyanidins profiling from raw beans to chocolate.” International Journal of Food Science & Technology 50, no. 3 (2015): 840-848..

Crafack, Michael, Mikael Agerlin Petersen, Carl Emil Aae Eskildsen, G. B. Petersen, H. Heimdal, and Dennis Sandris Nielsen. “Impact of starter cultures and fermentation techniques on the volatile aroma profile of chocolate.” CoCoTea 2013 (2013).

Crafack, Michael. “Influence of Starter Cultures, Fermentation Techniques, and Acetic Acid on the Volatile Aroma and Sensory Profile of Cocoa Liquor and Chocolate.” (2014).

Crowe, Kelly. “Chocolate Health Myth Dissolves.” CBCnews. January 05, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/chocolate-health-myth-dissolves-1.2879898.

Di Mattia, Carla, Maria Martuscelli, Giampiero Sacchetti, Bram Beheydt, Dino Mastrocola, and Paola Pittia. “Effect of different conching processes on procyanidin content and antioxidant properties of chocolate.” Food Research International 63 (2014): 367-372.

Gagliardi, Nancy. “Consumers Want Healthy Foods–And Will Pay More For Them.” Forbes. February 18, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nancygagliardi/2015/02/18/consumers-want-healthy-foods-and-will-pay-more-for-them/#10fddf09144f.

Jain, Parag, Ravindra Pandey, and Shiv Shankar Shukla. “Inflammation and Lifestyle.” Inflammation: Natural Resources and Its Applications. Springer India, 2015. 143-152.

Jalil, Abbe Maleyki Mhd, and Amin Ismail. “Polyphenols in cocoa and cocoa products: is there a link between antioxidant properties and health?.”Molecules 13, no. 9 (2008): 2190-2219.

Jespersen, Lene, Dennis S. Nielsen, Susanne Hønholt, and Mogens Jakobsen. “Occurrence and diversity of yeasts involved in fermentation of West African cocoa beans.” FEMS Yeast Research 5, no. 4-5 (2005): 441-453.

Kadow, Daniel, Nicolas Niemenak, Sascha Rohn, and Reinhard Lieberei. “Fermentation-like incubation of cocoa seeds (Theobroma cacao L.)–Reconstruction and guidance of the fermentation process.” LWT-Food Science and Technology 62, no. 1 (2015): 357-361.

Vinson, Joe A., and Matthew J. Motisi. “Polyphenol antioxidants in commercial chocolate bars: Is the label accurate?.” Journal of Functional Foods 12 (2015): 526-529.

Zhang, Dapeng, and Lambert Motilal. “Origin, Dispersal, and Current Global Distribution of Cacao Genetic Diversity.” In Cacao Diseases, pp. 3-31. Springer International Publishing, 2016.

Understanding The Chemical Compound that Confirmed Chocolate was Consumed by the Maya

A great deal is known about the importance of the cacao bean and chocolate to Mesoamerican cultures with its production and consumption dating back over 2600 years (Trivedi, 2002). Even though linguistic evidence, paintings and hieroglyphics have been found on vessels, the real chemical evidence that chocolate existed was not discovered until 1987 when analysis of residue from a vessel found at a Mayan site in Rio Azul in northeast Guatemala was discovered to contain theobromine, the primary chemical compound that is prevalent in chocolate and the signature chemical among 500 other chemical compounds that make up chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013; Trivedi, 2002).

What is Theobromine

220px-theobromin_-_theobromine-svg

The Chemical Structure of Theobromine

Source Public Domain

Theobromine, the primary chemical component in cacao, is a bitter alkaloid derived from the cacao plant. It has a chemical composition of C7H8N4O2 (Ashihara, Yokota, & Crozier, 2013). Because it is an alkaloid it is derived from plants and has a nitrogen base (Ashihara et al., 2013). While theobromine is not unique to cacao, as it is found in the leaves of tea plants and the nuts from the kola tree, it is most commonly known for its presence in cacao and the product made from cacao, chocolate. What is unique to theobromine as opposed to other alkaloids is that the term alkaloid is one that is often associated with other drugs like morphine and some natural poisons. Some of the better known members of the alkaloid family are caffeine, nicotine, quinine and cocaine, all of which are well known but none of them has the same appeal as theobromine (Ashihara et al., 2013). This appeal is because it is what makes cacao and chocolate special.

An interesting fact about theobromine is that despite having bromine in the name, theobromine does not contain any containing bromine. The name is, however, derived from the word Theobroma which in Greek theo means “god” and broma means “food”, literally translated theobromine means the food of the gods (Bernhardt, 2008).

aztec-god

Aztec God of Cacao

Source Public Domain

Why is Theobromine Important

What is most important about theobromine is that its presence during the chemical analysis of the vessels that have been discovered in Maya ruins provided solid evidence that chocolate was used by the Maya. Despite this evidence it is believed that the Olmec were the first to harvest and use cacao, however due to the harsh climate no artifacts form the Olmec have been found to prove this theory (Coe & Coe, 2013). What is known however is that finding traces of theobromine in Mayan relics has allowed scientists, anthropologists, and researchers a method to accurately determine both if chocolate was made and used by a certain culture, and the special significance that it had. Because the signature chemical nature of theobromine can be traced, the discovery of pottery and other vessels used in rituals can be identified using chemical means as containing chocolate not just by the hieroglyphs found on the outside of the vessel.

imgres

The hieroglyph symbol for cacao

Source public domain

Despite the paintings on many vessels depicting the symbol for cacao, by analyzing the chemical residue on the surface of the interior of the vessels it can be determined without a doubt that they did contain chocolate. Theobromine provides the crucial link to be able for scientists to say beyond a doubt that chocolate has been being produced for thousands of years, and no doubt will be produced for thousands more.

References

Ashihara Hiroshi, Yokota Takao, Crozier Alan (2013). “Biosynthesis and catabolism of purine alkaloids”. Advances in Botanical Research 68: 111–138. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-408061-4.00004-3.

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Trivedi, B. (n.d.). Ancient Chocolate Found in Maya “Teapot” Retrieved February 18, 2016, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/07/0717_020717_TVchocolate.html