A Revolutionary Invention

Appears in

Chocolate: The Food of the Gods


By Chantal Coady

Published 1993

The most important invention relating to chocolate production, mentioned earlier, was the cocoa press invented by the Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten and used in England, France and Switzerland. By turning a large wooden screw, it pressed the cocoa butter out of the chocolate liquor. The result was a dry, virtually fat-free cocoa powder. Van Houten was granted a patent for his cocoa butter extracting press by Wilhelm I on 4 April 1828, and so established Holland as the leading chocolate-producing country in Europe. He had also developed a system, which has since been called ‘Dutching’, involving an ancient technique used by the Aztecs: potash was mixed with the cocoa beans in order to darken the colour, lighten the flavour, and create a cocoa powder which dissolves readily in milk or water. The debate about whether ‘Dutching’ improves the flavour of cocoa continues to rage, although at the time of this invention in 1825, the English felt that the cocoa butter was an important factor in the nutritional and health-giving properties of cocoa. However, soon both the Frys and the Cadburys had bought machines from Van Houten, and were selling pure cocoa extract. The new trend was for cocoa extract, and it was marketed for its purity and solubility by Cadbury and Fry.

Many people claimed to have been the first to have had the idea of recombining the cocoa butter with the cocoa mass to invent today’s chocolate bar. Perhaps, spurred on by Van Houten’s new technology, several cocoa manufacturers hit on the idea simultaneously. At any rate in 1842, French Eating Chocolate appeared on Cadburys’ price list for the first time, priced at two shillings a bar. John Cadbury stated that all the products were manufactured by themselves in Birmingham.

The first people to experiment with solid bars of milk chocolate were undoubtedly the Swiss partners, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé, at Vevey in 1876. The legend is that Henri Nestlé was trying to find a way of condensing milk to mix with his own brand of children’s breakfast cereal. Daniel Peter then hit upon the idea of combining this new form of milk with cocoa, cocoa butter and sugar to create milk chocolate, which was marketed under the name ‘Peter’s’.
In 1892, to celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus arriving in America, there was a huge exhibition in Chicago: ‘The World’s Columbus Exposition.’ One of the many visitors was Milton Hershey, a caramel manufacturer from Pennsylvania. He was deeply impressed by a display of German machinery for making chocolate which had been brought over by J. M. Lehmann. Inspired by the sight, and being the classic American entrepreneur, as well as a Quaker, he decided that the caramels which had made him a fortune over the past few years were just a fad, and that chocolate was a really enduring product. It was his ambition to become a pioneer in this new market.
By 1900 Milton Hershey had sold his caramel factory for one million dollars. With the proceeds he built the village of Hershey ville (modelled on the English Quaker examples) near Pennsylvania, and a factory to produce chocolate bars, a product which he firmly believed to be the snack food of the future. His vision and the business have stood the test of time, and much of his fortune has been dedicated to improving the lot of the working classes.

Hershey introduced a milk chocolate bar with almonds. Now everyone was experimenting with new fillings, and moulded shapes, and chocolate technology was progressing in leaps and bounds, as the ever-expanding market-place demanded. Always keen to be in the vanguard of the chocolate industry, Hershey was the first person to experiment with the use of solid vegetable fats as a substitute for cocoa butter. His objective was to produce a chocolate which would not melt in tropical heat, and in 1911, using his new technology, Hershey introduced a six-ounce bar, which would soon be issued as standard rations to the troops going to war.

During World War II in Great Britain, each civilian was issued with ration books, allowing two ounces of confectionery (to include chocolate) per head per week. This figure represents about a quarter of the weekly national average for confectionery consumed in the 1980s. The precise ration went up and down during the course of the war, depending on supply, peaking at four ounces per week. American soldiers were issued with a daily ration of three bars of ‘D-ration’ chocolate. Chocolate had now been absorbed into the lives and the culture of billions of people around the world. A culture of food junkies was beginning to emerge.

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