Chocolate –History, Health Benefits, and Industry Changes

Love of Chocolate

Personal History

My first taste of chocolate was unhealthily early.

Mom left my dad in charge of me while she was out for a while. When she came home, she freaked out because there were brown smudges all around my mouth. Thinking I was hurt, she confronted my father.

“What happened?”

He smiled and said, “I was eating some chocolate kisses and thought since I like them, Ellen probably would too, so I let her taste one. She loved it! See, I held it to her lips and she had a great time snacking on it.”

“Don’t you now that babies aren’t supposed to have chocolate!”

“No, but . . .”

At least, this is how I was told the conversation went. Thus began my very early love of chocolate.

Food of the gods

The Mayans honored a cocoa god. Eating and drinking chocolate was confined to the ruling classes, for sacred ceremonies. The Aztecs used cocoa beans as a form of currency, consumable for the privileged. Montezuma, a 16th century Aztec emperor, drank three gallons of chocolate a day to increase his virility.

Enter the Spanish conquistadors, who brought home chocolate after their search for precious metals in Mexico. The Spaniards kept chocolate a secret until a Spanish princess wed a French king. She brought her love of chocolate to her new home. Chocolate’s popularity spread quickly through Europe.

European powers established plantations in Mesoamerica, depleted the labor pool with European diseases, and imported African slaves to work the plantations.

Slavery continues

After eating countless pounds of chocolate, and sharing it in baked goods and candy with family and friends, I discovered that child slaves were being used in the making of chocolate. I felt sick.

I researched candy companies to see what happened, staying clear of those that continued the practice of child labor and slavery. Children are working long hours with no pay. During an interview with a BBC filmmaker, “one who said he’d been working on a cocoa farm for five years was asked what he thought about people enjoying chocolate in other parts of the world. ‘They are enjoying something that I suffered to make,’ the boy answered. ‘They are eating my flesh.’”

The industry is working on its agreement to reduce child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana by 70% by 2020. I hope they follow through. This deadline has already been pushed back several times. In the meantime, I vote with my wallet, purchasing ethically produced chocolate.

Chocolate. What is it good for?


The health benefits of chocolate are many, particularly dark chocolate.

According to Rashed Latif’s article in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine, “chocolate has tremendous antioxidant potential.”  This may have a positive effect in aging, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis. Chocolate may lower cholesterol, prevent memory decline by improving blood flow, and lower the risk of heart disease–all terrific health benefits.

Chocolate might make us smarter. Caution here. This is a small amount of chocolate, preferably dark. Too much sugar, which is highly addictive, causes cavities and a long list of health problems. Moderation is important, albeit not as much fun as indulging in big bar of chocolatey goodness.







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  1. Hm… I had no idea about the use of slave labor in chocolate production. Is there a way we can identify what brands or varieties of chocolate are NOT produced with child laborers and slaves?

  2. Ellen, I had no idea. How do I follow suit, and buy only from ethical chocolate suppliers?


  3. Eveline Horelle Dailey

    Great piece! I remember when I was very young,Chocolate was received by my family. It came in form of dark blocks, as a child country of origin was not my concern.
    Sparingly offered a drink was prepared with raw milk. The concoction had no filler, no additives.
    It was not candy.
    Ellen points that the sweets and the drinks we now consume are poor remnants of what chocolate once was.
    A variety of companies now produce something not really fit for consumption but only for profit.

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