Eco-Friendly and Ethical Chocolate — Trivia & History

Chocolate Bar, Cocoa Beans, Cocoa PowderA scan of retail store candy shelves and websites demonstrates interest in eco-friendly and ethical chocolate is on the rise. Chocolate packages are adorned with logos and statements such as USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Child Labor Free, Bird Friendly, Carbon Neutral, and Rainforest Alliance Certified to name a few.

Chocolate has always been a part of the holidays in our household. Many boxes of See’s Candies were given and received over the years. Quite a few of the old boxes contain my dad’s collection of Mr. Fixit stuff. We also consumed our fair share of chocolate Santas, gold foil wrapped chocolate coins, and chocolate kisses.

I am a chocolate lover and several years ago decided to expand my horizons by looking for and buying chocolate brands that are planet and people friendly. The holiday season seems a good time to read and write about chocolate. In this first post, we’ll cover chocolate trivia and history highlights, then move onto related topics in other posts.

Chocolate Trivia

  • The word chocolate can be traced back to the Aztec word xocoatl which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans.
  • Cacao Pods on TreeThe Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods”.
  • Cacao refers to the plant or its beans before processing, chocolate is anything made from the beans, and cocoa generally refers to chocolate in powdered form.
  • The optimum altitude for growing cacao is 328–820 feet (100–250 meters) above sea level in regions where the mean temperature ranges from 71–77°F (22–25°C).
  • More than half the world’s cacao is produced by the West African countries of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
  • It takes 4 to 5 years for a cacao tree to produce its first beans.
  • 40 to 50 million people depend on cacao for their livelihoods.
  • According to data research company Mintel, U.S. chocolate sales reached $18.6 billion in 2011. Easter led seasonal sales at $4.9 billion. Premium chocolate accounted for $2.2 billion.
  • Based on data from IRI, Snickers is said to be America’s favorite brand of chocolate.

A Very Brief History of Chocolate

Chocolate history can be traced back thousands of years. It began life as a bitter unsweetened drink that was served during religious ceremonies and for health reasons. At times cacao beans were used as currency. The Europeans introduced milk, sugar, and spices as well as chocolate making innovations. Today chocolate companies span the globe.

  • 1750 BCpre-Olmec people living in Mesoamerica use cacao in beverages.
  • 600 ADMayans begin cultivation of cacao and use cacao pods in religious rituals.
  • 1200Aztecs attribute the creation of the cacao plant to their god Quetzalcoatl and drink an unsweetened cocoa drink called xocoatl for health reasons.
  • 1528 – Hernán Cortés introduces cacao beans to Spain and the Spaniards transform the bitter beverage by adding sugar, vanilla, and spices.
  • 1824 – John Cadbury opens a shop in England selling cocoa and drinking chocolate.
  • 1847Joseph Fry & Son create the modern chocolate bar.
  • 1875Daniel Peter who had received assistance from Henri Nestlé, introduces the first milk chocolate.
  • 1900 – the first Hershey’s milk chocolate bar is sold in the United States.
  • 1921See’s Candies shop and kitchen opens in Los Angeles, California.
  • 1941M&M’s are first sold by Mars, Inc. the company founded by Frank C. Mars.
  • 1994Green & Black’s Maya Gold becomes the first Fair Trade certified chocolate bar.
  • 2001 – The Harkin-Engel Protocol is established with an objective to end the worst forms of child labor in the production of cacao.
  • 2012 – a University of California, San Diego study of 1,000 people finds that eating chocolate may favorably influence metabolism leading to lower body mass index (BMI).


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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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