The History of Chocolate
EMG Chocolate Notes
In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, takes us on a journey to explore the history of chocolate.
Chocolate has become such an everyday part of our lives that it’s hard to believe that it has a long, complicated and often dark history stretching back to the 15th Century. Find out more about chocolate's fascinating history and tune in now.
EAT MY GLOBE: THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT FOOD
The History of Chocolate
SIMON: [Indecipherable talk]
APRIL: I’m ready when you are.
SIMON: Okay, let’s do it. Whoop.
SHOW INTRO MUSIC
Hi everybody, I’m Simon Majumdar and welcome to the latest episode of EAT MY GLOBE, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food. And, on today’s episode we’re going to look at the history of one of the most popular foods in the world. A food whose history has taken it from the Ancient Americas, through Europe to Africa and around the world and is now responsible for an industry that generates billions of dollars globally each year. It’s a food whose about 500 to maybe 700 compounds are claimed to aid against depression, harbor aphrodisiac properties, and it’s a food whose existence has almost become synonymous with romance.
As the author of “Peanuts” Charles Schultz once put it:
“All you need is love. But, a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Yes folks, today we’re going to talk about the history of chocolate.
Now, I actually don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and I’m not a great one for desserts, often re-ordering something from the savory menu that really appealed if I need something to round off a meal. However, I will admit to a fondness for a really good piece of dark chocolate to eat with my afternoon cup of tea, and to seeking out one of those deliciously rich and thick cups of Spanish hot chocolate – in which, of course, it’s obligatory to dip a piping hot churro – when I am in my favorite city in the world, Madrid.
I’m not alone, of course. As I said earlier, the chocolate industry is a huge business, selling around $98 billion worth of chocolate in 2016. In 2018, people like you and me consumed around 7.7 million tons of chocolate in various forms across the globe. With those numbers, I think that definitely makes chocolate one of the world’s favorite sweet treats. Now, those numbers reflect quite an achievement for a food that originated in one of the most remote parts of the globe and is harvested from a plant that is notoriously difficult to cultivate.
Chocolate has a long and fascinating history. However, before we begin to trace it back to its origins, why don’t we do what I always like to do at the beginning of each episode of Eat My Globe? Let’s define clearly what it is that we are going to be talking about.
Merriam Webster defines chocolate as, and I quote:
“A food prepared from ground roasted cacao beans.”
While the Oxford Dictionaries call it, and I quote:
“A food in the form of a paste or a solid block made from roasted or ground cacao seeds, typically sweetened and eaten as a confectionary.”
Both of these definitions make reference to the cacao plant or to give it its full Latin classification Theobroma Cacao. This was a name given to the plant by famed Swedish botanist, Carl Von Linne – also known by his Latinate name Carl Linnaeus – who lived from 1707 to 1778 and who is remembered primarily for creating the two word or “binomial nomenclature” classification reference, which he set out in his hugely important work Systema Naturae. These are still used in the Latin naming system used in medicine, botany, and other systems today. The first word sets out the genus and the second word the species. Linnaeus chose the name Theobroma Cacao for the plant, which means “food of the gods.” The name seems most appropriate, although I doubt this esteemed 18th century scientist could have had any inclination quite how many people would be in absolute agreement with him some 300 years later.
There is still much debate about the exact location of the origin of the cacao tree. Although all of the places that are potential candidates are in the areas of the Amazon basin, and in Mexico, Central or South America. These include the upper Amazon region, the upper Orinoco region of Colombia and Venezuela, the Andean foothills of Colombia, and Central America from Southern Mexico to Guatemala. While it might not be possible to pin down one of these for certain, we do know that some 10,000 years ago, the cacao plant began to spread, through the travels of animals, birds or man, across Central and South America. It also experienced a split in genus into two varieties: the Criollo, which grew in Central and South America, and the Forastero, which flourished in the Amazon Basin. Now we shall talk more about these different strands later when we begin to chat about the arrival of the Spanish.
It’s also hard to pinpoint an exact period when the cacao tree or at least its beans began to be seen as a source of food, or indeed who those first consumers were. However, in the excellently researched and very readable book, The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, the authors point towards a civilization known as the Olmec.
The Olmec inhabited an area that is now the Gulf of Mexico and the states of Tabasco and Vercruz between 1200 B.C.E. and 400 B.C.E. They are considered to be the forerunners of the other great Mesoamerican cultures, the Mayans and the Aztecs. We don’t know a great deal about the civilization. They left no written history that we’ve been able to decipher, and we’re not even sure what they actually called themselves. The name, “Olmec,” was actually the name given to them by the Aztecs and means “rubber people.” However, we do know that they were a society that was capable of significant construction, codified their religious practices and cultivated the fertile land around the Gulf of Mexico, raising corn and beans. We also believe -- from research carried out by a scientist named W. Jeffry Hurst from the Hershey Food Technical Center in 2006, which found compounds that occur in cacao and only in cacao on ceramics from the period -- that the Olmecs were the first to consume cacao and cultivate it for consumption.
While the first consumption of the cacao bean may just have been eating the fleshy pulp that covers the seeds, we now believe that the Olmecs also began to develop a method of making the seed itself more palatable. The system they devised is one that remains very similar to how chocolate is prepared today. It consisted of fermenting the beans, roasting them and then grinding them to a powder. The fermenting reduced the amount of bitter tannins in the beans, while roasting helped develop a deep rich flavor. The grinding made the cacao suitable for addition to numerous dishes including beverages. And these beverages could be also be quite alcoholic with an alcohol level of nearly 5% ABV.
After the use of cacao by the Olmecs, the next civilization that made cacao a significant part of their culture was the Mayans. The Mayans remain an indigenous people of Mexico and Central America and take their name from the city of Mayapan, the last capital of a Mayan kingdom. Although, as I mentioned, the Mayans still exist, the classic Mayan period, when cities such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal dominated, ran from 250 C.E. to 900 C.E.
During this time, cacao played a very important role in Mayan culture. They would prepare the cacao in the same way that the Olmec had and then mix the resulting powder with water, spices, cornmeal and chili peppers to create a drink. This liquid would then be tossed between two vessels to create a frothy drink.
Cacao also played a vital role in Mayan religion and they even had a goddess of chocolate whose name was Ixcacao. The Mayan “Book of Counsel” or “Popol Vuh” contain many references to Cacao. And these included citing it as one of the elements in their creation myths. So linked with religion did cacao become that it began to be introduced into religious rituals, farming rites, being exchanged in weddings, and as part of sacrificial offerings.
A study published by Economic Anthropology in 2018 also believes that cacao was important enough in Mayan culture that it began to be used as currency. Joanne Baron believes that both cacao and cotton textiles moved during the classical Mayan period from being initially symbols of status, to having a monetary function that was universally recognized across the different Maya kingdoms. It was not only used for the purchase of household goods, but also for the finance of state activities. Because of their worth, significant resources then became focused on their production. And, as we shall see later, by the time the Europeans made their first appearance, cacao was being used to pay taxes and tributes, to buy and sell goods and to pay workers. Initially, the cacao beans would have been used to barter, but later illustrations on ceramics and carvings show that it was soon being turned into something that resembled currency in the form of dried or fermented cacao.
By about the 10th Century C.E., the Mayan culture had begun to experience a significant decline. There are many factors that are proffered by academics as a reason for this, which include wars between competing Mayan states, the exhausting of the environment, and even a long and catastrophic event such as a drought which made it impossible to raise crops – including cacao – or to sustain sufficient levels of drinking water. Whichever is most to blame, by this time the Mayans were around but much fewer in number.
The other culture in Mesoamerica to have a significant story to tell in the world of chocolate, was of course, the Aztecs. They arrived in Mesoamerica in the 13th century, having previously been a nomadic tribe in what is now Northern Mexico. Their capital city was Tenochtitlan – the name of which was taken from their own name for themselves, the Tenocha – and from this apparently magnificent city, they soon became the dominant power in the region.
As with the Mayans, cacao became an intrinsic part of Aztec culture. The white pulp from around the pod was used to make an alcoholic drink, while the roasted beans were used to make hot and cold drinks that were flavored with vanilla and chili. The cacao tree was considered to be divine, and as a bridge between heaven and earth, and human sacrifices – of which the Aztecs practiced to honor the gods – were sanctified before death by giving them a chocolate drink known as Itzpacaltl, which meant “water with which obsidian blades are washed. The drink was made by mixing the blood of the previous sacrificial victim “washed” from the blades and combining it with chocolate to create a drink. According to Diego de Duran, a Dominican friar whose work, the Duran Codex or The History of the Indies of New Spain, one of the first western work on the Aztecs, the drink was given to the victim if he became melancholic at his approaching doom. Then,
“He became almost unconscious and forgot what he had been told. Then he returned to his usual cheerfulness and dance. . . . It is believed that he offered himself for death with great joy and gladness, bewitched by the beverage.”
No one can tell for sure where the word, “chocolate,” originates. There are arguments to be made that it came from a combination of a Mayan word, “chocol” – meaning hot – and an Aztec word, “atl” – meaning water, to form chocolatl, which later became “chocolate.”
Whether or not the word “chocolate” is derived from the Aztec language, as we shall discuss after the break, it is with the Aztecs, and their dealing with the arrival of the first Europeans that we begin to see chocolate becoming known in the West and on its way to being the world’s most popular sweet treat.
Almost inevitably, there are competing stories about how chocolate was first introduced into Europe by returning adventurers.
Christopher Columbus is believed to have encountered cacao beans during his fourth and final voyages to the New World, which took place between 1502 and 1504. On the 15th of August 1502, a reconnaissance party had been sent out to the island of Guanaja – now part of the Honduran Islands. During their visit, they encountered a large dug out canoe, which they captured. In an account written by Columbus’ second son, Ferdinand, in 1503, it is said to have contained not only fine cotton garments, but also, and I quote:
“A sort of wine made out of maize which resembled English beer; and many of those almonds which in New Spain [Mexico] are used for money. They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.”
End quote. Mmmmmmm….. beer and chocolate.
Although Columbus was obviously aware of what value these “almonds” – cacao beans – were to the Mayans he encountered, it also seems obvious that they did not seem as important to him because he decided to head south towards Panama instead.
Later, explorer Hernan Cortes – who lived from 1485 to 1547 – and who overthrew the Aztec empire and gained possession of Mexico for Spain, is often credited with being the first to bring cacao back from the New World to Spain. After landing in Yucatan, it took Cortes and his troops eight months preparing to finally head towards the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. It is often said that their arrival was seen by the Aztecs and their king, Montezuma II - who lived from 1466 to 1520 – as the fulfillment of the prophecy of the return of Quetzacoatl, the bearded white god. However, this may well have been a later Spanish addition to the story. We do know that it was during their initial meetings, when Cortes was first received as a guest of honor, that he was introduced to the drinking of chocolate.
In his work, The History of the Conquest of Mexico, published in 1843, William Hickling Prescott says, Montezuma
“took no other beverage [other] than the chocolatl, a potation of chocolate, flavored with vanilla and spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth and was taken cold.”
And Prescott adds that the chocolate was served in a golden goblet.
Montezuma himself is believed to have given his own thumbs up to chocolate since he had 50 jars prepared for him every day.
We can’t be sure if it was actually Cortes who did begin to bring cacao back from the New World to Spain. However, we can be sure that the Spanish colonizers were definitely aware of the value the Aztecs placed on chocolate both as a drink and a currency very soon after their arrival.
While the Europeans may well have been aware of the potential worth of cacao, their reviews of the chocolate drink are decidedly mixed.
In his 1565 work, “Historia del Mondo Nuovo” or History of the New World, an Italian adventurer, Girolamo Benzoni, dismisses the drink, and I quote:
“though seeming more suited for pigs than for men ... But subsequently, wine failing, and unwilling to drink nothing but water, I did as others did. The flavor is somewhat bitter, but it satisfies and refreshes the body without intoxicating: the Indians esteem it above everything, wherever they are accustomed to it.”
Despite this inglorious early review, the colonizers, as we now obviously know, did soon begin to partake of chocolate. In part, that may have been because, as with Benzoni, there was a shortage of anything else potable. Or, it may have been that over a period of time they developed a tolerance for the bitter taste of the Aztec drink.
What we do know is that by the latter part of the 16th century and the early part of the 17th century chocolate was being sent from the New World back to Spain. It was first viewed as a drink to be taken for medicinal reasons. In part this was because of reports on observations on how it had been used in the New World, and in part because the Hippocratic-Galenic approach to medicine was still widely practiced. This medicinal approach stated that “hot” illnesses should be treated with cooling foods and that “cold” illnesses should be treated with hot foods. Chocolate was seen as a “humid” food that was good for the treatment of stomach illnesses. Also, as we have seen from its use with sacrificial victims in Aztec culture, the ability to produce a feeling of euphoria was evident. And my wife says to say here that she can attest to the euphoric feeling that eating a bar of chocolate gives you. So there you go.
A number of scientists and explorers wrote about the beneficial effects of chocolate. In 1552, a work entitled the Badianus Manuscript written by two native Americans who studied at the college of Santa Cruz in Tlaltilulco -- Martinus de la Cruz and Juannes Badianus -- compiled a list of herbs and their medicinal use by the Aztecs. In this work, they included a list of ailments for which cacao based remedies were of value, which included gout, angina and fatigue.
Perhaps the most interesting is Francisco Hernandez, a doctor and botanist, and later the personal physician to Phillip II of Spain. At the behest of the king – who spent 60,000 ducats, a fortune, on the expedition – Hernandez left Spain in 1571 for a six-year trip to the New World to collect specimens and report back on mysterious species such as corn and cacao. Although his work based on his trip was not published during his lifetime, he is considered one of the first to make the connection between cacao and its potential treatment of fevers. And, he reported that from his discussions with natives on his trip, he had seen cacao used to treat liver disorders, dysentery, as an aphrodisiac and even as a way to fatten up people who were too skinny. We all know about that.
Over a period of the next few decades, chocolate began to move from being simply a medicine to a beverage that was to be enjoyed as a drink for pleasure. The Spanish had already begun to modify the chocolate drink they encountered in the New World, adding vanilla, sugar and cinnamon to sweeten the drink and modify its bitterness. Given the cost of the products used to make the chocolate drink, all of which had to be imported, hot chocolate remained a drink that could only be enjoyed by the well to do and it became a favorite in the Spanish courts. The chocolate was delivered to Spain and facilitated by the increasing availability of cane sugar from the new sugarcane plantations and by the creation of a dedicated slave plantation for growing cacao.
I mentioned earlier that there were two varietals of cacao, Criollo – which meant native, and Forastero – which meant stranger or foreigner, so called because it came from Brazil, which was not a part of the Spanish Empire. While the former was considered to produce the finer chocolate, the latter was a much hardier plant and easier to cultivate. Forastero was therefore the chosen varietal for most plantations. It remains so today and nearly 80% of the world’s chocolate trade today is from Forastero. A third varietal – a hybrid from strands of the other two – called Trinitario was later created on the island of Trinidad.
Once chocolate had become established in Spain, its popularity soon began to spread across Europe. The story goes that in 1615, Louis XIII of France was married to Anne of Austria, who, despite her name, was actually born and raised in Spain, being the daughter of King Phillip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria. The marriage was a political one. Nonetheless, Anne brought with her, her Spanish secret, chocolate. And her son, Louis XIV, popularized chocolate in his court when he became king.
Chocolate became an immediate hit and has remained so in France to this day. Members of the royal family and the nobility employed confectioners to make sure they always had their chocolate. In 1659, a confectioner named David Chaillou was granted the right to open the first of France’s famed chocolate shops and soon became known as, “Chocolatier du Roi” or, based on my preparatory school French, roughly translates to, “Chocolate Maker to the King.”
Some royalty, such as King Louis XV, even had their own particular chocolate recipe.
And I quote:
“Place an equal number of bars of chocolate and cups of water in a cafetiere and boil on a low heat for a short while; when you are ready to serve, add one egg yolk for four cups and stir over a low heat without allowing to boil. It is better if prepared a day in advance. Those who drink it every day should leave a small amount as flavouring for those who prepare it the next day. Instead of an egg yolk one can add a beaten egg white after having removed the top layer of froth. Mix in a small amount of chocolate from the cafetiere then add to the cafetiere and finish as with the egg yolk.”
Now, there you go, you, too, can drink like a King.
This was the initial point that we begin to see ground chocolate not just being consumed as a beverage, but also being incorporated into pastilles, bonbons, and other sweet dishes in the fine kitchens of Paris.
As chocolate became popular in France, so European fashion dictated that it became popular in other courts of Europe.
In Sophie and Michael Coes’ “The True Story of Chocolate,” they believe that the first encounter the English had with chocolate was through English pirates – who were given authority by Elizabeth I to operate – and their encounters with Spanish shipping. They may well have encountered the cacao seeds on board these ships they captured, but not knowing what they were -- in one case, they believed them to be sheep’s droppings -- either tossed them overboard or burned the ships in annoyance.
Although there were some English scientists and botanists that wrote about the potential medicinal benefits of chocolate, the drink itself did not make an appearance in the country until the 1650s, which is about the same time as two other important drinks, coffee and tea, also made an appearance. If you have not yet listened to a previous episode of Eat My Globe on the history of tea, I do recommend you go and find it at Eat My Globe dot com forward slash tea. Well worth a listen.
In 1655, English forces took the island of Jamaica from the Spanish – a change in ownership that was ratified by the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. It was a large producer of cacao and soon began supplying England.
In 1658, chocolate had its first mention in a dictionary in a work by Edward Phillips entitled, “The New World of English Words, or, A General Dictionary Containing the Interpretation of Hard Words as are derived from other Languages.” He defines “chocolate” as,
“a compounded Indian drink, whose chief ingredient is a fruit called Cacao.”
In 1659, a Parisian, who had opened a chocolate shop in England, posted an advertisement in a polemical pamphlet called, Needham’s Mercurious Politicus, which read,
“An excellent West India drink called chocolate, in Bishopsgate Street, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house being the first man who did sell it in England …. Ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates… it cures and preserves the body of many diseases.”
And the famed diarist Samuel Pepys referred to chocolate. For example, on the 24th of April 1661 citing it as a useful hangover cure, noting,
“Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose and went out with Mr. Creed to drink our morning draft, which he did give me in chocolate to settle my stomach.”
By the turn of the 18th Century, London already had a growing number of coffee houses, and to these were added houses that specialized in the selling of chocolate. As overwhelmingly all male institutions, where food was served alongside the beverages of choice, these were also places for the heated discussion of politics and where gambling took place until the small hours of the morning. The majority of the chocolate houses were based in the area around Covent Garden and St. James, and they were often considered places of ill repute. In fact, satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, called one of the most infamous chocolate houses, Whites, a place to be:
“Fleeced and corrupted by fashionable gamblers and profligates.”
While the chocolate served in the chocolate houses of England was expensive, and available only to the elite, it was not only available to the nobility. Indeed, chocolate soon became very popular across Europe. The desire of more people across Europe wanting to drink chocolate also then caused developments that made chocolate more available and more affordable, turning chocolate from an elite elixir to a drink for the everyday person. There were two main elements to this development.
The first was the attempt to increase the supply of cacao beans. As the demand for chocolate increased, the European nations could not just depend on Mesoamerica if they wanted a constant supply. Many countries began to develop their own plantations in equatorial lands that they had colonized. The British looked to territories such as Nigeria. The Dutch looked to Java and Sumatra. And the French, in African territories such as the Cote D’Ivoire – a country which is now the world’s leading producer of cacao, producing nearly 30% of the grand total. As well as introducing these new plantations, the European nations also needed to deal with the problems at the existing plantations in Meso America.
I have discussed a scenario known as the Columbian Exchange in a previous episode of Eat My Globe – in the episode on the History of Fish & Chips when looking at the origins of potatoes. But, for those of you who may not yet have listened to that, it’s a discussion by historian Alfred W. Crosby, in a book of the same name, that discusses the ecological impact of the colonization of the Americas. He argues that just as colonizers from Europe discovered elements in Mesoamerica that they could bring back to Europe – coffee, potatoes, chili, tomatoes and, of course, cacao – they, in turn, also brought things to Mesoamerica that had an ecological impact on the people and the land. These could be crops that they wanted to grow in these fertile new lands, but it could also include diseases from Europe that could have a disastrous impact on the native population.
The impact on the plantations was obvious, the result of the vicious treatment of the natives combined with diseases brought to the lands by colonizers had caused the number of potential workers to decline to a level where production was threatened. In response, landowners bought slaves from Africa to work on the plantations. The exact number of the slaves brought from Africa is debated. One source could say it could be around 12 million people, but we do know that as a profitable industry in its own right, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, changed the very demographics of the nations that were at its center.
As well as developments in the supply and volume of cacao, the other aspects of making chocolate more widely available came as Europe began to enter the age known as the Industrial Revolution. This roughly spanned from the middle of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century and saw a move in Europe – and America – from a primarily agrarian society to a more urban one.
Britain was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. Because of its role as a leading colonial power, its home resources of iron ore and coal, and compared to many of its competitors, it was a relatively stable political environment. Over this period of time, Britain began to develop new methods of production not only in industries such as steel, rail and textiles, but also in areas such as beverages including chocolate.
The full effect of the Industrial Revolution on chocolate making occurred in 1828.
A Dutch chemist named Coenraad Van Houten patented a process that extracted most of the cacao butter from processed cacao beans. This resulted in a higher volume of powdered chocolate which became known as cocoa. With less cocoa butter inside it, this cocoa was a much more malleable product and could be molded into bars or made into cases that could be filled.
In 1847, a Quaker by the name of Joseph Fry, a partner in a chocolate factory called J.S. Fry and Sons that had been selling drinking chocolate since the 18th Century, developed a way to incorporate cocoa powder, cacao butter and sugar in a way that allowed it to be shaped and launched the first bar of chocolate that was suitable for mass production. It was a lot more bitter than might be palatable today, but by 1866, they had developed the taste to launch their famous Fry’s Chocolate Cream Bar, which contained a mint cream enclosed in a chocolate casing. J.S. Fry & Sons soon became the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world, with a contract as sole supplier of chocolate to the Royal Navy.
There were two other elements worth making a note of in the development of the chocolate industry. The first occurred in 1876, when a Swiss chocolate maker named Daniel Peter – whose factory happened to be next to the Nestle creamery – added Nestle’s condensed milk to his chocolate to create the first milk chocolate, a category that accounted for 51% of chocolate sales in 2017.
And, in 1879, perhaps the last great development in the chocolate making process occurred when another Swiss chocolate maker, Rudolphe Lindt, developed a process called “conching” where the liquid chocolate was rolled from side to side in a stone vessel, sometimes for days, to create a truly smooth end result.
With these developments, chocolate consumption began to rise as it became more available and more affordable. The rapid growth also aided the increased popular consumption of sugar, which food anthropologist Sidney W. Minsk discussed in his book “Sweetness and Power.” He said that the per capita consumption of sugar rose in Great Britain from 4 pounds per person at the beginning of the 1700s, to 18 pounds by the beginning of the 1800s, and a whopping 90 pounds by the 1890s. This love of sugar meant not only that sweets like chocolate were popular, but also that less cocoa had to be used in their making as long as they were sweet enough.
The love of chocolate had traveled outside of Europe too, particularly to the American colonies. The first mention of chocolate arriving was to St. Augustine in Florida where a ship called, Nuestra Senora del Rosario del Carmen, arrived with several cases of chocolate in 1641. In 1670, two women in Boston, named Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard, obtained a licensed to, and I quote:
“keepe a house of publique Entertainment for the selling of Coffee and Chuculettoe.”
And on December the 3rd 1705, the first advertisement for chocolate appears in The Boston Newsletter, which states that, and I quote:
“To be sold in Boston at the Ware-house of Mr. James Leblond on the Long Wharf near the Swing-Bridge, new Lisbon Salt … also Rum, Sugar, Molasses, Wine, Brandy, sweet Oyl, Indigo … Cocoa, Chocolate, with all sorts of Spice, either by Wholesale or Retale [sic], at reasonable Rates.”
While much of the first chocolate was imported from Britain, by 1765, the first chocolate factory opened in the American colonies. Dr. James Baker, a Harvard trained physician, collaborated with an Irish immigrant named James Hannon to open a factory on the banks of the Neponset River in Massachusetts. The factory produced dense hard chocolate “cakes” that the American colonists would mix with boiling water to produce a drinking chocolate. This was a big success and the company soon moved to larger premises.
In his book, Cocoa and Chocolate:1765 to 1914, author William Gervase Clarence-Smith says that by 1869 the industry in the United States had grown considerably,
“there were 949 factories, employing 5,825 workers, producing $7.2 million of output.”
And, he also goes on to argue that the territorial expansion of the United States obviously provided opportunities for growth, particularly in California, where the remaining Mexican influence provided a market for chocolate.
Chocolate consumption began to see a great boom after the 1880s. Rudolph Lindt’s invention of “conching,” as well as Daniel Peter’s creation of “milk chocolate,” as I mentioned earlier, and all the new advancements in chocolate making, contributed to chocolate’s popularity.
The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century began to see the formation of some of the confectionary giants that sit on the leaderboard of chocolate manufacturers today.
In 1880, Milton S. Hershey founded the Lancaster Caramel Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After he was inspired by seeing a German made chocolate processing machine at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, he started a chocolate company the following year. By the turn of the century, he had sold the caramel company and was dedicating his time to the sale of milk chocolate bars. In 1903, needing a bigger production capacity, Hershey began to build a factory in Derry, Pennsylvania along with an unincorporated town for its workers that by 1906 began to carry the name, Hershey. That town did not just contain homes, but also parks, schools and other infrastructure for his workers. When he and his wife, Catherine, realized they could not have children, he founded a school for orphan boys and bequeathed it his entire fortune. Today, the Hershey Company is the 6th biggest chocolate manufacturer in the world generating $7.5 billion in 2017 in net sales. It is also responsible for some of the most beloved brands in the U.S. and around the world including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s Kisses, Mr. Goodbar, and my own favorite, Kit Kat, originally an English bar that it produces under license in the United States.
At the very top of the ladder, when it comes to chocolate sales, is another American company, Mars Wrigley Confectionary. The Mars Company started in 1911 with Frank C. Mars selling candy wholesale in Tacoma, Washington. He later moved to Minneapolis in 1920 when he started a candy basket company. In 1922, he started a new business, which he called the Mars-O-Bar Company. In 1923, it was his son, Forrest Senior who came up with the idea of a malted milk bar coated in chocolate which became the still successful Milky Way.
The Mars-O-Bar Company began to prosper and in 1929 moved to Chicago and, shortly thereafter, began to add new products to the line, including the Snickers Bar and the 3 Musketeers Bar. In 1932, they opened their first international outlet in Great Britain, and in the 1940s Forrest Senior launched the M&M corporation, which would later come under the umbrella of the Mars Corporation. In 2017, the company generated $18 billion in net sales globally.
That impressive figure, as I said at the beginning of the podcast, is just a part of the $98 billion in chocolate sales every year. Before we finish, I just went to check out which countries consume the most chocolate per head in the world. Surprisingly, the United States doesn’t appear in the top five, which include Sweden – 14.6 pounds per capita; the United Kingdom – hurrah – at 16.8 pounds per capita; Ireland – 17.4 pounds per capita; Germany – 17.8 pounds per capita; and Switzerland – a massive 19.4 pounds per capita. For the record, the United States consumes around 9.5 pounds per capita.
Impressive stuff, certainly a success story that never would have entered the mind of Carl Linnaeus when he first gave the cacao tree the name Therobroma Cacao or in the mind of Columbus when he encountered “almonds” on his final trip to the new world.
Food of the gods, indeed.
Before I leave you, however, I would like to add a quick note on some of the darker sides of the chocolate industry.
As I mentioned earlier in the podcast, a massive amount of the chocolate we consume is produced in countries that are former colonies of European nations. And, even though they are now independent, it would be fair to say that the trading relationships between them have been far from equal. Ghana and the Ivory Coast, for example, produce nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa, but as they sell mainly unprocessed beans to corporations in richer nations, they actually make less than 10% of the wealth generated by the industry. Add this deeply unfair practice to modern horror reports involving child labor and modern-day slavery, and you can see that the cocoa business has definitely not been all sweetness.
Thankfully, there is now a major move, not only to provide more equitable trading relationships, but also to ensure that stringent supplier ethics are applied across the business. We see this both with major companies such as Mars and Hershey and across the increasing number of chocolate companies that work under the “fair trade” banner, which you can check out on your country’s fair trade organization.
So, by all means do go out and enjoy your favorite bar of chocolate, but may I urge you to do a little research before you buy to make sure we support those people and nations that bring us our daily indulgence. Thank you.
And with that note, I’m going off to have a cup of tea and a lovely bit of dark chocolate. “Fair trade,” of course.
So I’ll see you all next time.
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Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.
The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”
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and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would particularly like to thank Professor Carla Pestana and Nicole Gilhuis from that department for their help with this episode. We would also like to thank Sybil Villanueva both for her help with the research and in the preparations of the transcripts.
Published Date: April 1, 2019
Last Updated: October 1, 2020
For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.