Today the world droll over chocolates! Any party or ceremony includes chocolates as a favorite delicacy. From mouth-watering chocolate bars to hot cocoa cups- there’s nothing that can’t be solved by a treat of chocolate. A Latin American grace, chocolate has dominated the global food market for decades. It reached a value of USD 106.6 billion in the year 2020 and the industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.5% between 2021 and 2025 to reach a value of USD 147 billion. As of now, Europe holds the major share of the global chocolate market. In Europe, Russia is the largest chocolate market, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom, and France.
Whether it is white chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate, everyone has their favorite go-to flavor. Yet not many know about the long history of Chocolate that by every form is dark. From where did chocolate originates and how the world started its fascination includes a bitter history that needs to be told. Because not everything you know about chocolate is sweet.
The History of Chocolate
Chocolate by definition is a food product made from roasted and ground cacao pods, which is available as a liquid, solid, or paste. Chocolate is a 4000-year-old Mesoamerican drink. The first cocoa plant was found here in 1900 BCE. The Olmec, who was one of the earliest Latin American civilizations, first turned the cocoa plant into a drink. This drink was very popular as a medicine and was served in festivities. Past few centuries, the Mayans, indigenous people of Mexico and Central America turned cocoa into a heavenly fruit. They worshipped the plant and drank cocoa in the form of a drink. The Mayans believed that the chocolate was a gift from the god Kukulkan. They use to make a cocoa brew using roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chilies, water, and cornmeal in the naturally bitter taste. They called this drink ‘xocolatl’.
In the 15th century, the Aztecs starting using cocoa as a currency drank it as a beverage and included it in a ritual preparation of wars. They too believed Cocoa was a gift from god Quetzalcoatl. The first transatlantic cocoa trade began with explorer Hernán Cortés in 1519, when he visited Tenochtitlan. The king prepared around 50 jugs of chocolate poured in golden cups for the visitors. Cortes when returned to Spain, he brought along cartons of cocoa seeds. Initially, the bitter taste of cocoa made it be used as medicine for upset stomach and headaches. But soon by adding little honey, sugar, and vanilla, the natives of Spain made the first-ever sweet chocolate drink. This experiment made chocolate popular in the country and it was replaced as currency for treats and gifts.
But the Spanish kept the drink in their culture for almost a century until when it reached France. In 1615, when a princess of Spain married French King Louis XIII, she bought a bunch of chocolate as a gift for her new homeland. And from France, chocolate reached almost every country of Europe. Everybody loved the delicacy, but this was just the beginning of massive trade. With the Industrial Revolution cocoa production completely changed. In 1828 when C.J. van Houten invented the cocoa press. This device was capable of separating the cocoa butter from the seeds and grinds them into a powder. This powder can be mixed in any solution to make a cocoa beverage. They also mixed the fresh cocoa powder with the separated cocoa butter to make chocolate bars. Joseph Fry in 1847 was the first person to make the First Solid Chocolate Bar.
This huge popularity of cocoa made the demand extremely high. Because the plants of cocoa can only be grown near the equator thus many nations set up their own cocoa plantations over there. With this plantation, began the dark history of cocoa extending till today. Several African slaves were forced into the industry by men, women, and children to work in dire situations. The work they do is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful, especially to children.
Slavery in the Cocoa Industry:
Studies suggest that in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa sector roughly 1% of children in child labor could be in. Slavery or enslavement is a brutal yet thriving business. Astonishingly, in 2019, about forty million people, including ten million children, were enslaved throughout the world despite it being illegal. Be it domestic servants, forced labor, or even child soldiers, the practice of slavery is everywhere around us. A recent study found that around 1.48 million children are engaged in hazardous work on cocoa farms.
With increasing demand and short slave supply, many children are even being trafficked to such countries where the cocoa plantation is being set up. Malian officials believed that 15,000 children, some as young as 11 years old, were working in Côte d’Ivoire in 2001. Unfortunately, many of these kids were working under family pressure in order to earn an income. They were dropped out of school and forced into labor by their own family. Despite the efforts of the government or NGOs, the cocoa industry is thriving. There are an estimated 40.3 million people in modern slavery around the world including 10 million children, 24.9 million people in forced labor.
Though several brands like Alter Eco, Divine, Endangered Species, Theo, and Madécasse do not support slavery, there are several big firms still producing chocolate from child labor. Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Hershey, and Mondelēz have been named as major brands using child slavery. The United Nations declared 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. But we guess it’s still a very long battle. When we look closely, slavery is everywhere- from the food we eat to the clothes we wear. So next time you buy a bar of chocolate, make sure you are not participating in child labor.