Tag Archives: white chocolate

Chocolate in the 21st Century: A Chocolate-Tasting Experiment and Essay

Introduction

For my final project, I decided to host a chocolate tasting with fellow students Frankie Hill and Sarah Kahn, who will be writing their thoughts on the tasting independently. The six types of chocolate we chose to use for the tasting were Cote D’Or’s Belgian Milk Chocolate, produced by Mondelez International, Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey, a special take on traditional white chocolate, Antidote’s 84% cacao dark chocolate with nibs as well as their 100% “raw” chocolate with nibs, and finally, Taza Chocolate’s Stone Ground 84% dark chocolate from Haiti, as well as their 80% dark chocolate from the Dominican Republic. We thought that these chocolates represented a variety of different tastes, textures, countries of origin and philosophical approaches to chocolate-making, and as such, we felt it would be appropriate to use them as units of scholarly analysis, and to use our subjects’ reactions to the various types of chocolates as real-world context through which to frame our analysis. These different types of chocolates are connected to various issues in the contemporary chocolate industry, from the growth of the “fair trade” movement, to the evolution of our modern understanding of what constitutes “chocolate” to the surge in the “craft chocolate” industry, to the exploitation of labor in Africa and much of the rest of the developing world. In this post, I will be detailing the chocolate tasting subjects’ subjective evaluations of the various chocolates my colleagues and I selected, and then diving into my own analysis of how these chocolates connect from a historical, economic and sociological perspective to the various issues that I have raised.

Chocolates used for tasting in the experiment (proprietary image)
Chocolate tasting subjects enjoying some dark chocolate (proprietary image)

Chocolate #1: Cote D’Or’s Belgian Milk Chocolate, by Mondelez International

Background

Cote D’Or’s Belgian Milk Chocolate is a fairly standard milk chocolate blend produced by Mondelez, the largest chocolate company in the world. It has been a staple of the Belgian commercial market since its introduction in 1883 (Mondelez International, “Brand Family”). Every aspect of the chocolate’s packaging and presentation looks corporate and modern, from the relatively modest off-white exterior of the package to the basic foil wrapping to the neatly lined, Kit-Kat like rows into which the chocolate is divided, virtually identical to each other.

Taster Reactions

The general reaction to the Cote D’Or chocolate from our chocolate tasters was unimpressive. They commented that the texture was fairly smooth, the chocolate melted in one’s mouth at a somewhat average rate, and the taste was largely indistinguishable from the kind of chocolate you would get in a store-bought basket for Christmas or Easter. The taste of the chocolate seems consistent with its presentation as the product of a large, Western corporate conglomerate tailoring its chocolate and ingredients towards mass consumption. One taster remarked that the bars tasted like “Kit-Kat without the middle part.” One could say that this chocolate served as a sort of control for the experiment, a flavor of chocolate most people in the West would already be familiar with.

Connection to Broader Themes from the Course

The most important aspect of the first chocolate, to me, was Mondelez’s use of its “Cocoa Life” logo on the front of the packaging. Cocoa Life is Mondelez’s proprietary branding of what it refers to as its “global sustainability program… tackling the complex challenges that cocoa farmers face, including climate change, gender inequality, poverty and child labor.” Mondelez’s stated goal is to have all of its chocolate sourced through its Cocoa Life program by 2025 (Mondelez International, “Why Cocoa Life?”). This struck an interesting attempt for a large multinational corporation, often associated in the popular imagination with oppressive hierarchies and exploitation, to capitalize on recent trends towards sustainably sourced chocolate. As Kristie Leissle argues in her book Cocoa, in a chapter focusing on trade justice, consumers in the West are increasingly aware of the abuses that can occur in chocolate production and seek “guilt-free” sources of chocolate. There is a movement towards not “free trade,” but “fair trade” in which chocolate farmers and workers are fairly treated and compensated for their product (Leissle, Cocoa, pgs. 128-158). What is truly interesting is that even traditional players in the market seem to be convinced that marketing themselves as fair trade-compliant is now good for profits, a development which may represent a positive trend towards greater equality in the chocolate production industry, or more cynically, a coopting of grassroots movements for economic justice by the usual suspects.

Chocolate #2: Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey

Background

According to Valrhona, Blond Dulcey was the result of a fortunate accident when pastry chef Frederic Bau “absentmindedly left some white chocolate in the double-boiler for too long.” After removing the chocolate from the boiler, he “noteiced it had turned a blond color and the faint smell of toasted shortbread and caramelized milk wafted out of the pan.” Sliced up into irregularly-sized pieces, with a light beige color reminiscent of crackers, and containing 32% cocoa butter (Valrhona US), Blond Dulcey is anything but typical white chocolate, and it seemed appropriate as part of the experiment to try this unique chocolate on our tasters.

Taster Reactions

Our tasters described the chocolate as very buttery, melting easily in one’s mouth. It was also described as slightly bitter, sweet but in a mild way, and as tasting “like nothing” according to one of the tasters. It seems the high concentration of cocoa butter in the chocolate, as well as the unique chemical processes giving it its off-white color, produced the intended effect of a substance which, while marketed as chocolate, tastes, looks and feels very different from the twenty-first century conception of what “chocolate” is.

Connection to Broader Themes from the Course

“What is chocolate?” is a theme that has been grappled with from the food’s inception as a grainy Mesoamerican drink that was originally served cold and consumed by elites for a variety of ritualistic purposes to a hot, smooth, often bitter concoction taken by European nobility along with coffee, to the modern, mass-produced chocolate bar consumed widely across the (mostly) Western world today (Coe and Coe). As chocolate made its way from the New World to the Old, and then eventually from Old World elites to the masses, its flavor profile changed, most dramatically so with the introduction of sugar, and a variety of substances pleasing to Western palettes changed the nature of chocolate so as to make it almost unrecognizable from its starting point (Schwartzkopf and Sampeck). The kind of experimentation with chocolate which led to the creation of Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey has been an integral part of chocolate’s history, leading us to a moment in modern history where a white chocolate bar, containing no part of the cacao plant except for the cocoa butter harvested from the chocolate production process, can legitimately fall within the spectrum of foods considered “chocolate.”

Chocolates #3 and #4: Antidote Chocolate’s 84% Cacao with Nibs and “Raw 100%” Cacao with Nibs

Background

Antidote produces its chocolates with “rich Arriba Nacional beans from the south and west of Ecuador.” The company claims to work mostly with farm cooperatives and to use a proprietary process for its Raw 100% bars in order to “maximize the potency of anti-oxidants, flavonoids and holistic nutrients” (Antidote Chocolate). Its founder goes by “Red,” and the packaging on the company’s bars gives off a very new age, hipster, pseudo-anarchist vibe which seems common to many craft chocolate brands these days. For our chocolate tasting session, we offered participants both the 84% and “Raw 100%” cacao varieties. We thought these bars would provide an excellent contrast with the earlier chocolate samples and expose our tasters to the experience of “raw” dark chocolate.

Taster Reactions

Our tasters immediately identified the rough, crunchy texture of the cacao nibs embedded within the chocolates, though they originally misidentified them as nuts. They were able to distinguish between the 84% and 100% cacao varieties, with one taster remarking that the 100% cacao tasted “like tree bark,” and many commenting that it was “unusually bitter.” Another taster remarked that there was a hint of fruit in the 84% cacao bar. I informed him that the plants around which a cacao tree is grown often influence the taste of its fruit, and that “terroir” is an important concept in the burgeoning world of craft chocolate. All in all, our tasters, which had never tasted chocolate nibs or anything close to “pure” cacao, were strongly impacted by the taste, though they did not rate it highly on average.

Connection to Broader Themes from the Course

The Antidote chocolate bars represent a glimpse into the workings of the modern craft chocolate industry. As Kristy Leissle argues, the craft chocolate community is obsessed with the concept of artisanal chocolate (Leissle, “‘Artisan’ as Brand: Adding Value In A Craft Chocolate Community”) and constantly seeks to differentiate itself from big, corporate, traditional chocolate by marketing its brands as more art-like and less processed. This is exemplified by the obsession in some craft circles with the concept of “raw” chocolate, though there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes “raw.” The “Raw 100%” antidote chocolate bar also highlights another tendency of craft chocolate makers: evoking imagery of ancient Mesoamerican cultures in order to add the air of authenticity to their products. Antidote’s Raw 100% bar claims on the packaging to be inspired by Tonacatecuhtli, the Aztec god of creation and fertility. The debate continues over whether this should be considered dangerous cultural appropriation, or should be celebrated as a marketing move which Mesoamerican chocolate farmers will ultimately profit from (Coe and Coe, pgs. 262-263).

Chocolates #5 and #6: Taza Chocolate’s 84% Dark from Haiti and 80% Dark from the Dominican Republic

Background

Taza Chocolate specializes in stone ground chocolate, which it calls “perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture.” Supposedly, its founder and CEO Alex Whitmore was inspired to create a stone ground chocolate-factory in Somerville, MA after taking his first bite of stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico (Taza Chocolate). For our chocolate tasting session, we chose Taza Chocolates’s 84% Dark with chocolate from Haiti, as well as the 80% Dark with chocolate from the Dominican Republic. We wanted to stick with dark chocolate to give our tasters further exposure to concentrated cacao flavors, and chose both Haiti and the Dominican Republic as they less common sources of chocolate than the typical chocolate from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, yet are connected to these two countries through shared histories of colonialism and exploitation. We also thought that stone ground chocolate might present an interesting spin on the concept of “raw” chocolate as compared to Antidote’s take on “raw” chocolate.

Taster Reactions

Our tasters repeatedly remarked that there was a rougher texture to the Taza bars than to previous chocolate samples, likely due to the larger particle size of the chocolate due to the unconventional refining process, as I informed them after the tasting process. They could also taste the difference between 84% and 80% dark chocolate, though only slightly, suggesting that slight gradations in cacao concentration can be detected to a limited extent even by inexperienced tasters. Curiously, our tasters seemed to prefer the 84% Dark from Haiti over the 80% Dark from the Dominican Republic, even though they reported the 80% Dark as being slightly sweeter, suggesting that country of origin is an important factor in determining chocolate taste and quality.

Connections to Broader Themes from the Course

            Though Taza claims to go above and beyond in pursuing ethically sourced chocolate, paying farmers above the fair trade price for their wares (Taza Chocolate), it still relies heavily on the racialized system of value extraction that has historically categorized chocolate production since its inception. As late as the early 20th century, slave labor was still being used to produce chocolate in places such as Sao Tome (Satre). In modern times, over 70% of chocolate is produced in Africa, with a large quantity of the rest being produced by low-paid black labor in countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Yet nonetheless, black workers which produce the majority of the world’s chocolate consume only a tiny fraction, and most of the profits go to the white owners of Western chocolate companies (Leissle, pgs. 4-7, 36-46).


Modern chocolate production and consumption patterns (April 2010 to March 2011)

Conclusion

Ultimately, our chocolate tasting experiment presented an opportunity to both enjoy chocolate with friends as well as to continue educating ourselves and others on some of the broad themes explored in the course this year. It is my hope that people in the West and across the globe will continue to consume and enjoy chocolate for many years to come, while keeping in mind the realities of the global chocolate trade and never taking for granted the blood, sweat and tears of the less powerful people who make it all possible, fighting every day to ensure they receive justice.

Works Cited

“Antidote 100% Raw Cacao Bar with Nibs.” Antidote, 2019, antidotechoco.com/products/raw-100-cacao-nibs.

“Antidote 84% Dark Chocolate Bar with Nibs.” Antidote, 2019, antidotechoco.com/products/cacao-nibs-84.

Antidote Chocolate. “ABOUT US – Antidote Chocolate.” Antidote, antidotechoco.com/pages/about-1.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

“Cote D’Or Milk Chocolate.” Gourmet Boutique, 2019, http://www.gourmetboutique.net/collections/cote-dor-chocolate.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Leissle, Kristy. “‘Artisan’ as Brand: Adding Value In A Craft Chocolate Community.” Food, Culture & Society, vol. 20, no. 1, 2017, pp. 37–57., doi:10.1080/15528014.2016.1272201.

Mondelez International. “Brand Family.” Mondelez International, http://www.mondelezinternational.com/brand-family.

Mondelez International. “Why Cocoa Life?” Cocoa Life, http://www.cocoalife.org/.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.

Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 73–99.

“Taza 80% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate Bar, Dominican Republic.” The Chocolate Path, 2019, http://www.chocolatepath.com/products/taza-80-stone-ground-organic-chocolate-bar.

“Taza 84% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate Bar, Haiti.” IHerb, 3 May 2019, http://www.iherb.com/pr/taza-chocolate-organic-84-dark-stone-ground-chocolate-bar-haiti-2-5-oz-70-g/75609.

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

“Valrhona Blond Dulcey.” Confectionery News, 2019, http://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2012/10/17/World-s-first-blond-chocolate-claims-Valrhona.

Valrhona US. “Blond® Dulcey 32%.” Valrhona US | Retour à La Page D’accueil, us.valrhona.com/chocolate-catalog/couverture-chocolate/blondr-dulcey-32/bag-beans. Wade, Kristine. “The Production of Chocolate.” Flickr, 3 Feb. 2017, http://www.flickr.com/photos/147998004@N06/32640931946.

Divine Chocolate: Innovative, Fair, and Delicious

Introduction

A major problem that has existed within the chocolate production industry has been the ethics surrounding the harvesting of cacao. For decades the means of harvesting cacao involved slavery where people were forced to work in harsh conditions, for 18 hours a day without pay (Carla Martin, Lecture 5). After the major cacao producing countries outlawed slavery, the working conditions still didn’t improve and the pay the workers received was not nearly enough to live. In fact, because many of the cacao producing farms were hidden in the jungle, many farm owners still got away with slavery because the lack of visibility meant the farm owners weren’t held accountable for their unethical standards. Even today visibility and pay are still a major problem in the cacao farming industry. In 2015, the average income for a Ghanaian household working in the cacao farming industry was between 50 and 80 cents per day (Carla Martin, Lecture 7).  However, one company that is working to bring ethics and visibility to the cacao farming and chocolate production industries is Divine Chocolate. 

Divine Beginnings

Divine Chocolate is a British bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer that was founded in 1998. Their mission is to create delicious and ethical chocolate from the harvesting of the cacao beans, to the selling of the bars. They also, ensure that all other ingredients that go into their chocolate bars are produced in an ethical manner. Divine Chocolate was created when Twin Trading and Kuapa Kokoo came together with the goal of changing the world cacao market for the better.  Twin Trading is a non-governmental organization that creates farming co-operatives around the world. They focus on improving the working conditions and paying fair wages to farmers. Their main focus is on the ethical farming of coffee, cacao, and nuts (“Who We Are”). One of their farming co-ops is called Kuapa Kokoo, which is a farming co-op in Ghana that grows and trades cacao. Kuapa Kokoo is comprised of 85,000 farmers from 1,257 different villages (“About Us”). That number continues to grow because of the exceptional way they treat and pay their farming members. All of the cacao that goes into the Divine Chocolate bars are grown by farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo farming co-op. 

Scorecard grading the ethical standards of chocolate companies
Image Source

Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative

Kuapa Kokoo was founded in 1993 and it means “good cacao growers”. Their mission is “to empower farmers in their efforts to gain a dignified livelihood, to increase women’s participation in Kuapa’s activities, and to develop environmentally friendly cultivation of cocoa” (“The Divine Story”).  In, 1995, Kuapa Kokoo was the first small farm farmers’ organization in West Africa to receive the Fairtrade certification. They ensure the farmers are working reasonable hours, with sufficient breaks, and proper pay. Kuapa Kokoo does all the administrative work that goes into trading cacao and bypasses all the shady government cacao agents. This is to ensure visibility, fairness and that the farmers are not getting swindled by government agents or other entities with ulterior motives. Specifically, Kuapa Kokoo, “weighs, bags, and transports the cocoa to market [and] ensures that all its activities are transparent, accountable and democratic (“The Divine Story”). Before the Kuapa Kokoo co-op existed, government agencies would use faulty scales that misrepresented the true weight of a farmer’s cacao harvest. This allowed them to steal from unsuspecting farmers which further harmed them. 

Structure of Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo 

Where Divine Chocolate is especially unique is in their company structure. Today, 44% of Divine Chocolate is owned by the Kuapa Kokoo farming Co-op. In other words, this means that each farmer in the Kuapa Kokoo co-op has a small ownership stake in Divine Chocolate. This unique business structure earned Divine Chocolate the Millennium Product award “for its innovative organizational model” (“Inside Divine”). This is the first company in the world where the cacao farmers have a stake in the chocolate company they are harvesting for. This is significant because Kuapa Kokoo and its farming members now have a say in how Divine manufactures, markets, and sells their products. Because the farmers partially own Divine chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo is a Fairtrade co-op, the farmers are paid exceedingly better than they were before. Receiving a cut of Divine’s profit, having a say in Divine’s operations, and having an influence in the worldwide marketplace has greatly empowered and motivated the farmers because now their work is properly valued, their ideas are considered, and their well-being is a priority. 

Divine is committed to ensuring that farmers of Kuapa Kokoo have a voice in the company. Currently two out of the five members of Divine’s Board of Directors are from Kuapa Kokoo. Divine also ensures that at least one out of the four yearly board meetings are held in Ghana (“Inside Divine”). This ensures that all the farmers can witness and participate in the company in a meaningful way. 

Video showing the success that Kuapa Kokoo and Divine Chocolate’s partnership has generated

Goodness in Ghana

The effect that Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo has had on the community has been immeasurable. First, because Kuapa Kokoo is a Fairtrade co-op, they receive a Fairtrade premium. The Fairtrade premium is a grant of additional money given to the co-op so the farmers can collectively decide how to improve their community and their workplace. With this premium, the farmers have invested in community development, farm skill development, clean water, improving education, and several other things that improve the lifestyle of those in the community (“The Divine Story”). They similarly receive dividends from Divine Chocolate which allows the farmers to upgrade equipment yearly so as to ensure high levels of production.

Kuapa Kokoo is also deeply concerned with social and environmental issues. They been on the forefront of speaking out against child labor because they understand that this is still a major problem that needs to be address throughout the industry. They also have created several goals that are aimed at improving the environment and increasing productivity while still adapting to environmental changes. 

Worldwide Effect

Divine Chocolate has also had a large effect on the global chocolate market. They have set an extraordinary example of how to ethically run a chocolate company. Since their founding in 1998, the number of Fairtrade chocolate sales in the UK has skyrocketed by more than 8800%. Many of the major chocolate companies have also made a shift to become more Fairtrade. Divine Chocolate’s success inspired Cadbury to convert Cadbury Dairy Milk to Fairtrade. This was a major move because, not only was Cadbury Dairy Milk its leading brand, but Cadbury was also one of the major five chocolate companies in the world so having them convert even one product to Fairtrade had a major effect on a lot of people worldwide (“The Divine Story”). In the years following Cadbury’s move, Nestlé and Mars began buying cocoa from Cote D’Ivoire which was the beginning of their process to partially convert to Fairtrade. By 2013, the shift to Fairtrade chocolate worldwide was in full swing. In the UK specifically, in 2013 eleven percent of the chocolate sold was deemed Fairtrade (“The Divine Story”). Divine Chocolate takes pride in the fact that they were one of the first companies to commit themselves to Fairtrade ethics and they are even prouder that their example has inspired other companies to commit to Fairtrade production. 

Graph showing the large increase in Fairtrade Chocolate Sales in the UK
Image Source

Divine in the US

As I mentioned before, Divine Chocolate was a company that headquartered and sold only in the UK. However, in 2007, with the help of Oikocredit, (a company that provides loans and capital), Divine Chocolate was able to launch its United States branch of the company. In fact, Divine Chocolate launched in the United States on Valentine’s Day 2007 which is the day the most chocolate is bought and consumed in the United States (“The Divine Story”). Their original launch was very small; however, now Divine Chocolate is sold at Whole Foods, Walgreens, Walmart, and through Amazon.com.

In 2015, after the Divine Chocolate USA branch gained solid footing in the American market, Divine Chocolate merged their UK and USA branches to form one unified company. With this new structure, the Kuapa Kokoo co-op still remained 44% owners of the company (“Inside Divine”). The CEO of the newly merged company was Sophi Tranchell. She was a managing director from the UK branch of the company before they made the merge. After the merger she said, “Having launched Divine in the USA nine years after the founding company launched in the UK, it has been very exciting to see it successfully navigate all the challenges in the USA market and mirror the success of Divine in the UK. We have seen a growing appetite around the world for business being done differently” (“Inside Divine”). In this statement Sophi Tranchell alludes to the fact that Americans became more aware of the issues involved with products that weren’t Fairtraded. This heightened people’s willingness to purchase Fairtraded chocolate even though they are typically more expensive. Sophi also mentions how the added American dimension to the company makes their global reach much larger and makes Divine stronger because they can inspire and market to a completely different group of people. Furthermore, the new market allows Divine “to deliver [on their] mission to fairly and sustainably remunerate smallholder cocoa farmers in West Africa” (“Inside Divine”). This larger market means more profit which, in turn, means more money for the farmers who need it the most. 

Uniqueness in the Fairtrade Chocolate Market

One way that Divine Chocolate differentiates itself from a lot of other bean-to-bar Fairtrade chocolate companies is through the products they offer. Many bean-to-bar Fairtrade chocolate companies only offer dark chocolate. This is very problematic because the majority of the global market prefers milk chocolate and, if there are no Fairtrade options, consumers are forced to turn to the big 5 chocolate companies which are generally not Fairtrade. In fact, in a 2013 survey it was found that 51 percent of people prefer milk chocolate, 35 percent prefer dark, and 8 percent prefer white chocolate (Ballard). However, Divine helps fill this gap in the Fairtrade chocolate market because they offer all three types of chocolate in a variety of different flavors which very few companies do. Divine, along with a few other diverse Fairtraded chocolate companies , are helping take power away from the Big 5 Chocolate companies that are not fairly traded. 

Shows the wide variety of chocolates and flavors that Divine offers
Image Source

Outlook

Divines presence in the world market place is growing nicely. I believe Divine Chocolate will continue to grow and thrive in the Fairtrade Chocolate market. Last year group sales increased 6.4%, however the impending Brexit decision has affected their overall profit margins mostly because of the decline in value of the dollar and pound in relation to the Euro (Annual Report 2017-2018). Nevertheless, the number of sales increased nicely from the year before and, once the turmoil surrounding Brexit is resolved, the increase in sales will begin to show in their balance sheet. 

Kuapa Kokoo is also flourishing as they now produce almost 5 percent of Ghanaian cacao, which equates to about 640,000 sacks of cacao a year (“The Divine Story”). While 5 percent may seem small, the most important thing is that it is all produced and sold ethically, while prioritizing the health of its workers and the environment. Divine also has plans within the next year to expand its range of cacao to São Tomé (Annual Report 2017-2018). This will broaden their market appeal and it will allow them to bring their groundbreaking business model to the people of São Tomé. The farmers on São Tomé have historically been treated very poorly over the years and they will greatly benefit from Divine’s co-op business model. 

Conclusion

I think things are looking up on all fronts for Divine Chocolate. Their commitment for over 20 years to empower the farmer has transformed thousands of people’s lives. It is very important that Divine continues with their mission because, while they have made a big impact already, there is still a lot of work to be done in the global market place. All in all, Divine has done a great job addressing the major problems in the chocolate industry that we have discussed in class. They have increased visibility, paid fairly, and empowered the farmer so that participating in the bean-to-bar chocolate making industry is desirable and sustainable for everyone from the top to the bottom. 

Scholarly Sources Cited
Multimedia Sources Cited

Chocolate: A devolution or evolution?

It can be hard to look back on the thousands of years that chocolate has evolved from a simple Mesoamerican beverage into what it is today, and say that chocolate has devolved in a downward spiral. Today in some forms it is simultaneously a rare and expensive delicacy, and a ubiquitous cheap candy that is readily available at a degraded quality available to even in the most poverty-stricken economies around the world. When chocolate was confined to the Mesoamerica region, it was considered to be food of the gods and was regarded so highly that is was ceremoniously attributed to good health and well-being.

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Figure 1: $250 Each. Stuffed with a French Perigord truffle and crafted from 71-percent single-bean Ecuadorean dark-chocolate. Follow link for additional expensive chocolates. Fox News

Has chocolate evolved over time from simple watery cacao drink enjoyed by the historical Olmec culture, into sought after delicacies such as the $250 Knipschildt Chocolatier’s Madeline truffle? (figure 1) Or, has chocolate devolved from a glorious beverage with positive health properties, to an adulterated cacao bi-product lacking purity, and is ever distant from its original roots such as the Hershey’s White Chocolate (figure 2) that contains 0% cacao (Bratskeir)?  While the recipes have changed over time, it has remained true that chocolate has been sought after as a comfort food, a medicine, a gift, an offering, or consumed with a greater purpose that to satisfy hunger.

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Figure 2: White chocolate: often used as an ingredient for baking in cookies, shown here as Hershey’s Cookies & Crème white chocolate bar.  Hershey’s Chocolate bars

Glorified chocolate

Originating in Mesoamerica, the Olmec culture cultivated the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) and declared it “a gift of the gods” (Bruinsma and Taren). Appropriately, the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus (1707-78) gave the scientific name Theobroma cacao. Cacao is Greek and means food of the gods (Coe and Coe, 18). This godly association isn’t too difficult to understand when studying their perceptions of the effects that cacao had on them. This gift from the gods was considered an aphrodisiac and was often associated with medicinal values (Bruinsma and Taren). This belief has more recently been verified by means of Mayan archeology that has proved they were in better health and lived longer than their chocolate deprived subjects (Coe and Coe, 32).  There is more recent science published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that shows chocolate can even satisfy magnesium deficiencies (Bruinsma and Taren). The cacao plant from which chocolate is derived has foliage that is also valuable to many for other products. The leaves of the cacao plant can be used to create a tea used in the treatment of altitude sickness. The leaves are even used in the production of cocaine (Coe and Coe, 19).

A plant with such medicinal value was naturally monetarily valuable as well in the 16th century and therefore associated with social and economic classes, and elite rulers. It was prepared for and consumed at banquets, weddings, and other ceremonies (Coe and Coe, 97). As a valuable commodity, it was often exchanged as currency (figure 3) (Coe and Coe, 99). Despite being a currency that did in fact grow on trees, the beans were even counterfeit by the Aztecs. Such careful attention was given by the Mayan people to this highly regarded commodity that Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus noted when “the [cacao] fell, they all stopped to pick up, as if an eye had fallen” (Coe and Coe, 109). Was Columbus’s fascination with cacao the beginning the degradation of a high regard for chocolate?

money

Figure 3: A visual depiction of the exchange values cacao beans had in 1541. Photo from Cornell University.

Adulterated chocolate

It was with Christopher Columbus’s voyages that chocolate was introduced to European culture.  It was at this point, chocolate took a drastic European turn and became more like the chocolate we know today. Would the Olmec people and others from the Mesoamerican era consider our modern chocolate blaspheme as a disgrace to their original food of the gods? (figure 4) Chocolate was originally drunk as a beverage by the Mesoamerican cultures (Coe and Coe, 33). We actually have learned that the transformation began before Columbus.  Sophie and Michael Coe demonstrate in the True History of Chocolate that the Spaniards had stripped chocolate of the spiritual meaning and “imbued it with qualities altogether absent among the Aztecs and Maya. It was nothing more than a drug, a medicine in humoral system” (Coe and Coe, 126).

Figure 4: Maya cacao god- Cornell University

The transformations of the former cacao beverage into what we know today as chocolate continued over the course of the centuries after Columbus introduced cacao to Europe. One of the most historical was the first chocolate bar invented in 1847 by the Fry Brothers in Bristol, England (Coe and Coe, 241). Milk chocolate was first made successfully in 1879, after Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, thought to try making it with the powdered milk invented by his neighbor, Henri Nestlé, 30 years earlier (Coe and Coe 247). In his book, The New Taste of Chocolate, Presilla explains that “the practice of adding dried milk to the chocolate mass to make milk chocolate put another layer of distance between the consumer and the direct flavor of good and bad cacao” (Hansen; Presilla, 43). Now under the cheap guise of milk flavor, it was from this point we began to see the adulteration of chocolate, many of which have not improved much.

One such adulteration starts at the source of the cacao. Lead contamination in chocolate was brought to attention when the Food and Drug Administration identified unacceptable levels of lead (Coe and Coe, 32). Although the lead contamination was thought to be related to negligence or accidental contamination, other adulterations have been intentional. The Cadbury company became known in the 19th century for being the reason the government had to implement the Adulteration of Food Act of 1872. At the time, they mixed flour and starch into their product, red ocher (crushed red brick), red lead, and vermilion (Coe and Coe, 244). With the exception of the ocher, and toxic lead and vermilion, the flour and other adulterations have become an acceptable and common pairing with chocolate today. Chocolate is often times paired with nuts, fruits, caramel, and other less expensive fillers to aid in the reduction of cacao necessary to provide a sizable chocolate bar. These cheapened products are consumed in mass quantities by even the most struggling economies. A far progression from the exclusive food of the gods enjoyed by the most elite.

Reflections

Even with the addition of ingredients, as the quality and recipes have changed over time, one constant about chocolate has remained true throughout the course of history. Chocolate isn’t consumed for nourishment or in admiration of the gift from the gods. It is consumed to alter a spiritual, emotional, or mental state of being. It has been sought after as a comfort food, medicine, a gift, an offering, or consumed with greater purpose than to satisfy hunger. This has been a recorded purpose as earlier on as 3,000 BC and is still true today. Chocolate has not only remained highly regarded by more people than ever before, but the cheap and adulterated chocolate that seeks to imitate the food of the gods is flattery to the delicacy that is high quality chocolate.

Works Cited:

Bratskeir, Kate. “What Exactly Is White Chocolate.” Huffington Post 10/28/14. Web.

Bruinsma, Kristen, and Douglas L. Taren. “Chocolate: Food or Drug?” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 99.10 (1999): 1249-56. Print.

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

Hansen, Kristine. “6 of the World’s Most Expensive Chocolates.”  Fox News. 2/6/15. Web.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate : A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st rev. ed. Berkeley Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Sexy Chocolate: How white women and black men are aphrodisiacs in advertising

Axe’s Dark Temptation commercial (2008) portrays a young white man who morphs into a “chocolate man” with brown skin, an exaggerated smile and bulging eyes after using the body spray. He then walks around a city while young thin white women scramble to snap his arm off, aggressively lick and bite his ears, and seem controlled by their cravings for chocolate/his body. They have no hesitations about consuming him and do not ask for permission to touch him. He seems in on the joke; at one point he breaks off his nose and sprinkles it into two white women’s ice cream cones without asking, because he already assumes their reaction will be delight and ecstasy. Even though the chocolate man is carnally exploited by white female desire, his plastered smile underlines that this is exactly what he wanted, and that is why he used the product in the first place. Despite that this commercial does not advertise a chocolate product, the fact that chocolate is used as a vessel to advertise the deodorant is significant in understanding how Western society conflates race and sexual desire, masculinity, heterosexual relationships, and chocolate as a food.

The commercial operates on the stereotype that women cannot resist chocolate and therefore will not be able to resist men who use this dark temptation spray. This is even literally written on their website advertising the fragrance today (2015).

axead

This trope has been done again and again in chocolate advertising involving young white women; it is implied that chocolate is something that they irrationally, orgasmically enjoy, and that in exchange for affection from these women, men should give them chocolate products (as evidenced by Valentine’s Day marketing).

http://bittersweetnotes.com/1642-valentines-day-women-being-seduced-by-chocolate

The blatant undertones of race take center stage in this ad; the chocolate man looks like a classic minstrel blackface stereotype, and the exaggerated smile has a history in chocolate advertisements such as the French company Banania’s ads that echo the Uncle Tom motif, a black man content with his exploitation for the pleasure of white consumption. There is also a history of black bodies posing as literal chocolate snacks for white cravings in Western advertising (i.e. Little Coco and Honeybunch from Rowntree’s Cocoa in the U.K., Conguitos in Spain), so this Axe storyline is nothing new (Robertson 42-44).

blackface     “classic” minstrel make-upScreen shot 2015-04-10 at 9.41.38 PM (screenshot of video above)

 

banana  Uncle Tom imagery  (France)

Axe is simply following tradition (i.e. Old Spice) by conflating the black male body with white female sexual desire and white male longing and envy when marketing their product. Axe is operating on the idea that in order to obtain the sexual attention of white women one must acquire “dark” characteristics (the product’s name isn’t even “Chocolate Temptation”—it’s “Dark Temptation.”) This ad shows that American society has a long way to go concerning portrayals of white women serving as the ultimate “trophy” for male sexual desire and black male bodies as sexual, hyper-masculine objects in chocolate advertising.

The second advertisement is for a fictional perfume for women called “White Chocolate Truffle” with the tagline “Anything but Vanilla”.

2sexy

The image of a young, curvy white woman wearing a revealing evening gown while unwrapping and eating a white chocolate truffle already echoes many themes already mentioned in this essay; white female beauty, lust, and chocolate products are all fused together, and the presence of the evening gown implies wealth and upper class status. White skin, specifically white female skin, has long been associated with quality and high social capital.  Here intersectionality plays an important role (Martin Lecture 16 Slide 11)—for even though her white skin is historically viewed as superior and desirable, she is still a woman, and ultimately in many chocolate advertisements her body itself is a commodity to be consumed, not unlike the truffle in her hand, or the implied truffles popping out of her neckline waiting to be “unwrapped” and enjoyed.

nakey

Commodification of women’s bodies (vimeo)

The message is clear: Women need to buy this perfume to smell like white chocolate—a desirable, sweet treat so they can smell as appealing/be as appealing as this sexy woman eating an actual white chocolate truffle, with curves that mimic the truffle shape of the candy to be consumed to satisfy another type of desire (male desire), yet again drawing a connection between receiving heterosexual attention by becoming more like a chocolate product.

Whereas the Axe commercial may be seem odd at best, offensive at worst to 2015 viewers, the White Chocolate Truffle ad looks like something we have all seen before in magazines, and could easily star a buxom white celebrity such as Christina Hendricks, Scarlett Johansson, or Marilyn Monroe, which brings up other complicated issues. White women who showcase their curvy bodies are associated with glamour, class and sex appeal in Hollywood, whereas women of color with round bodies in many cases are criticized for being overly promiscuous or classless for displaying their curves (one just has to look at the backlash for the recent cover art for Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda album to understand the double standard.) (Duca).

 

red

 

dolce

 

vintageboobs

booty

Why is society not offended when white curves are showcased? Would a milk chocolate truffle ad using Nicki’s curves be effective? 

This taps into Western cultural associations with the words “vanilla” and “chocolate” and their conflation with blandness, boringness, pure, clean, and whiteness and spiciness, exciting qualities, dirty, naughty, and people of color. This ad is communicating that this perfume is “anything but vanilla”, implying the user will be the opposite of vanilla–like chocolate—embodying the scandalous, sexually titillating qualities that chocolate (people of color) supposedly imbibe, but still while staying safely within the privilege of being white, and therefore “classy”, and like cocoa butter, sweeter and without as strong a kick. (Martin Lecture 16 Slide 12). The metaphorical imagery is allowing the white female consumer to become sexier and more sexual through the means of chocolate, while still safely and demurely playing up to common images of white female sexuality.

Ultimately, both white women and black men are consistently portrayed as sexual objects in chocolate advertising. Time will tell if this trend will continue.

Works Cited (in order of appearance)

“Dark Temptation” 10 April 2015. http://www.theaxeeffect.com/#/axe-products/dark-temptation-body-spray

Robertson, Emma. “Does you mean dis?: cocoa marketing and race”. Chapter 1: “A deep physical reason: gender, race, and the nation in chocolate consumption. Chocolate, Women, and Empire A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press. New York. pages 35-44.

Blackface. February 6, 2014. Hulton Archive Image. banana1015.com 10 April 2015.

Banania, French Chocolate Drink. Image. Slide 13, Lecture 16: Race, ethnicity, and gender in chocolate advertisements. March 30, 2015. AAAS 119x, Carla Martin. Harvard University.

Conguitos, Spanish Chocolate Candies. Video. Slide 14, Lecture 16: Race, ethnicity, and gender in chocolate advertisements. March 30, 2015. AAAS 119x, Carla Martin. Harvard University.

White Chocolate Truffle Ad original work of Julie Coates, conceived by Julie Coates and Dami Aladesanmi.

Six Basic Tenets of Critical Race Theory. Slide 11, Lecture 16. Race, ethnicity, and gender in chocolate advertisements. March 30, 2015. AAAS 119x, Carla Martin. Harvard University.

Naked lady covered in chocolate. https://vimeo.com/6742298

Christina Hendricks advertisement. 20 Sept 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk./tvshowbiz/article-2074214. 10 April 2015.

Scarlett Johansson Gallery. mobile.fanshare.com. 10 April 2015.

“Marilyn Monroe voted cleavage queen.” http://www.santabanta.com/newsmaker/3892. Image.

Duca, Lauren. “Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ Cover Reveals Something Way Bigger than Her Butt”. HuffPost Entertainment. 31 July 2014. Huffington Post. 10 April 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/30/middlebrow-nicki-minaj_n_5635394.html

Chocolate and Vanilla. Slide 12.Lecture 16. Race, ethnicity, and gender in chocolate advertisements. March 30, 2015. AAAS 119x, Carla Martin. Harvard University.