Member only
Episode
126

Chocolate

Jan 22, 2021
How Stuff Works
-
20
minutes
Food & drink
Business
Coffee
Consumption
Poverty

It's the world's favourite sweet snack, and the chocolate industry is worth over $100 billion.

Discover the fantastic history of where it comes from, how it became so popular, and learn about some of the economics of chocolate production.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about chocolate, the delicious sweet that is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people around the world every single day.

[00:00:35] We’ll talk about where it first came from, how it used to be consumed, how it developed into the version of chocolate that we know and love today, and we’ll also talk about the economics of chocolate, how it actually goes from a little bean in an equatorial farm through to a bar in your hand.

[00:00:56] The request for this episode came from two members on the same day, actually, Pierluca, from Italy, and Jenneke, from the Netherlands. 

[00:01:04] So, Pierluca and Jenneke, thanks, I hope you enjoy this one.

[00:01:09] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, that transcript and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:25] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally improving their English in a more interesting way. 

[00:01:40] So if that is of interest, and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:50] OK then, chocolate.

[00:01:52] You know chocolate, you probably know something about chocolate, but you probably don’t know everything about the fascinating story of its journey from spiritual bean to the bar that is the centrepiece of the 100 billion dollar chocolate industry today.

[00:02:10] As I guess you do know, chocolate comes from the cacao bean, a bean that is found inside a pod that grows on a tree called the Theobroma Cacao, a tree that is native to central America.

[00:02:25] If you go to Central America, find a Theobroma Cacao tree and cut down a load of cacao pods, you will be disappointed to find that they don’t seem very chocolatey at all.

[00:02:38] If you open up the pod you’ll find a white, sticky pulp, and if you get to the cacao beans and put one in your mouth you will probably think you’ve made a mistake and arrived at the wrong tree. 

[00:02:53] A raw cacao bean is bitter, slightly different to very dark chocolate, but completely different to the kind of chocolate that you’ll find in shops all around the world today, and that millions of people enjoy eating.

[00:03:07] Indeed, when cacao was first discovered, it wasn’t something that was eaten. 

[00:03:13] It was drunk.

[00:03:15] Now, there’s a little bit of debate about when cacao was first discovered.

[00:03:21] In a recent book, called The True History of Chocolate, which, if you are interested in finding out the True History of Chocolate sounds like the sort of book that you should read, the authors suggest that chocolate goes back three or four thousand years.

[00:03:37] It certainly goes back to the indigenous Aztecs, who used to drink a sort of cacao broth

[00:03:44] This wasn’t just raw cacao beans and water.

[00:03:49] The beans would be separated from the cacao pods, then left outside for a week or so to ferment.

[00:03:57] They would then be cleaned and left to dry out in the sun for a couple of weeks, then roasted for another 1 to 2 hours.

[00:04:06] The beans would then be crushed open, and the raw pieces inside could be ground down into a paste.

[00:04:15] And it was this paste that was then used as the base for the drink.

[00:04:21] Depending on how rich you were, you would drink it in different ways.

[00:04:26] For a cheap, normal day-to-day drink these roasted cacao beans would be mixed with maize, with corn, and spices, for a warm, refreshing and revitalising drink.

[00:04:41] But if money was no object, you wouldn’t bother with the added corn, instead you would add more pure cacao and extra spices.

[00:04:52] For the Aztecs, these cacao drinks were about more than just being tasty.

[00:04:58] They viewed it as having spiritual and medicinal properties, they thought that it could cure those who drank it of illnesses such as fever and tiredness, and - somewhat surprisingly when we think of the effects of chocolate today, they thought it could cure tooth decay. They thought it could cure problems with your teeth.

[00:05:20] The Aztecs believed the bean was a gift from the gods, specifically a gift from a god called Quetzalcoatl, the god of wind and wisdom.

[00:05:31] One ruler of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, reportedly believed so strongly in its beneficial properties that he would drink it 50 times a day.

[00:05:43] When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Americas they were initially confused about this strange bean that the local people were so passionate about.

[00:05:54] The King of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, our 50 cups of chocolate a day ruler, reportedly threw a banquet for Cortes and his men that included vast amounts of chocolate, or vast amounts of this cacao drink.

[00:06:08] The Spaniards tasted the cacao drink, but weren’t convinced, with one even writing that it was a ‘bitter drink for pigs’.

[00:06:21] But Cortes saw that it was considered pretty special and, after he had taken Montezuma II prisoner, he took some cacao beans back to Spain.

[00:06:31] So, this is the next step on chocolate’s journey, its arrival in Europe. 

[00:06:38] Exactly when this precious bean first arrived on European shores is debated, but it’s likely some time at the start of the 16th century.

[00:06:50] But for the majority of the 16th century, it was confined to Spain, it didn’t really spread much further afield.

[00:07:00] It was consumed in a similar way to the Aztecs, as a drink, but it was very much a preserve of the wealthiest in society. 

[00:07:08] These beans were in scarce supply, they had to be shipped over from the Americas, and it was a real luxury.

[00:07:20] By the start of the 17th century this cacao drink had spread to France. 

[00:07:26] In 1615, when King Louis XIII of France married the daughter of King Phillip III of Spain, the daughter, Anne, brought cacao to celebrate the marriage.

[00:07:39] Chocolate, or rather cacao, was still in its liquid form, a cacao drink, but it was starting to take off.

[00:07:48] It had spread to Britain, and European countries with colonial empires started to set up their own cacao plantations in equatorial countries. 

[00:07:59] Cacao requires very specific conditions to grow.

[00:08:03] It can only grow in environments with very high humidity, the trees require a lot of shade, and if the temperature drops below about 18 degrees Celsius the plants will die.

[00:08:16] So, you simply can’t grow it in Europe in natural conditions, but that didn’t stop Europeans from developing quite the taste for it.

[00:08:27] In wealthy circles in Europe it was considered a fashionable, healthy drink, full of beneficial properties.

[00:08:35] It was believed to be good for your health, and was also considered to be an aphrodisiac, a substance that increases sexual desire.

[00:08:45] Indeed, Casanova, perhaps the most famous European womaniser, was reportedly a huge fan of cacao. 

[00:08:54] But these Europeans were still drinking cacao, not eating it. 

[00:08:59] What you and I know as chocolate wasn’t to come until 1828, and was to be invented by a man from a country that you might not traditionally associate with chocolate - The Netherlands.

[00:09:13] In 1828 a chemist from Amsterdam, called Coenraad Johannes van Houten, invented a way to make powdered chocolate.

[00:09:22] He invented a press that could separate about half the natural fat in the bit in the middle of the cacao bean

[00:09:31] This left a sort of cacao powder, which could either be used for drinking or could be mixed again with the cacao butter or sugar to create a solid version, something similar to what we would now know as a chocolate bar.

[00:09:49] Van Houten patented his machine, he protected his invention so only he could separate the fat from the cacao bean in this way, but the patent only lasted for 7 years, expiring in 1835.

[00:10:05] The century following this can be described as the golden age of chocolate, and many of the chocolates that you and I probably enjoy today were invented in this period, from the 1830s to the 1930s.

[00:10:20] The first chocolate bar was made in 1847 by a company called Fry’s in England.

[00:10:28] Then in 1875 a Swiss chocolatier called Daniel Peter had the bright idea of adding milk to chocolate to create, you guessed it, milk chocolate.

[00:10:40] And four years later, in 1879, another Swiss chocolatier, a man called Rodolphe Lindt invented something called conching, which is a process that changes the chocolate from a powdery state to more of a liquidy one. And, makes the flavour more evenly distributed and more delicious.

[00:11:03] With the industrialisation of the production of chocolate, and a reduction in the cost of bringing the cacao beans over from the Americas, what was previously something just for the wealthiest became a lot more affordable to people in Europe.

[00:11:19] The arrival of the chocolate bar came at almost the perfect time.

[00:11:24] Firstly, the European workforce was changing. People were starting to work away from their homes, people were commuting, and needing to eat ‘on the go’.

[00:11:37] Chocolate was an ideal snack. It was tasty, it filled you up, it didn’t need to be cooked or heated, you didn’t need to get your hands dirty, and it was affordable. 

[00:11:48] It was perfect.

[00:11:50] And at the start of the 20th century it was also the beginning of the advertising boom. Chocolate was a perfect product to be put on billboards, on posters around cities, to be advertised in magazines and newspapers, and of course later on, on TV.

[00:12:08] It was a product that anyone could enjoy, man or woman, young or old, and given that it was now mass produced, it was cheap and therefore enjoyed by millions of people every day.

[00:12:23] Now, the flip side of this affordability is how chocolate was and is produced. 

[00:12:30] If we go back to the early days of cacao, the beans were frequently produced by slave labour, by people working in horrendous conditions while the European rich enjoyed their delicious chocolatey beverages.

[00:12:46] And even now, despite the fact that it’s the world’s favourite sweet snack by a country mile, cacao farmers , the people who actually produce the chocolate are some of the poorest people in the world.

[00:13:01] Farming cacao, farming chocolate, is difficult, tough work.

[00:13:06] Each cacao pod produces about 30 to 40 beans, and it takes around 80 beans to make 100 grammes of chocolate. 

[00:13:13] So, depending on the size and purity of the chocolate bar, it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 entire pods to make your chocolate bar. 

[00:13:28] And one worker can separate the beans from about 2,000 pods per day. So, if you do the maths, a worker can separate enough beans to make anywhere from 400 to 1,000 bars of chocolate. 

[00:13:44] And that’s just the separation stage.

[00:13:47] So if you think of all the other costs involved in the other stages, and remember that you can buy a chocolate bar from your local supermarket for really not very much money at all, you realise that these people are evidently not getting much of the final price that you are paying.

[00:14:05] Related to this is the question of who else is involved in the process of getting a cacao bean from a tree near the Equator through to your hand, ready to be scoffed down.

[00:14:19] Cacao, like most commodities, such as coffee or sugar, is often bought and sold by trading houses, companies that will buy up large quantities of cacao in order to sell it on to chocolate companies.

[00:14:34] The price of cacao goes up and down a lot based on its supply, based on how much of it there is. 

[00:14:41] If there is a lot of cacao on the market, the price tends to go down, and if there isn’t enough cacao available, the price goes up.

[00:14:50] But you and I, as consumers of chocolate, as people who eat chocolate, we don’t really see this.

[00:14:57] We don’t go to a shop one day and find that a chocolate bar is 50 cents and then come back the next week to see it’s at 80, then the week after it’s at 30. 

[00:15:08] One of the reasons for this is because there is a whole industry of people buying and selling things called chocolate ‘futures’, or cacao futures

[00:15:19] You can think of these as a contract to buy something at a fixed price in the future, no matter what the actual market price at that time is.

[00:15:30] To give you an example, if the price of cacao now is $3,000 a tonne, a cacao farmer can sell a tonne of cacao now for $3,000. 

[00:15:43] Or, someone could go to the farmer and say “I’ll buy a tonne of cacao from you for $3,000 in 6 months time”.

[00:15:53] If they agree to do this, the farmer knows that they will have a buyer for their product for $3,000. And for the trader, they know that they can get this cacao in 6 months time for a fixed price.

[00:16:08] But if the price in 6 months time is higher, let’s say it's $3,500, the trader can pay the arranged $3,000 price, and sell the cacao immediately on to someone else and take a $500 profit.

[00:16:24] And this is what's happening all over the world, except of course in much higher quantities than people buying a tonne at a time.

[00:16:33] Indeed, a British commodities trader, a man called Anthony Ward once bought up contracts for 15% of the world’s cacao, 15% of all the cacao in the world, earning himself the nickname Chocfinger, after the Bond villain Goldfinger. 

[00:16:53] These traders make a profit from knowing what direction the price will go - they try to get as much information as possible on future harvests, whether there will be the right amount of rain and so on, in order to make bets on the price.

[00:17:10] And most don’t ever actually come into contact with a single cacao bean - the contracts are sold on to chocolate producers, who want to deal with traders who can sell them hundreds or thousands of tonnes of cacao, rather than a few tonnes at a time.

[00:17:26] And the great irony perhaps of chocolate is that, while it is such a common, affordable snack for most of us in the West, where we can never actually grow it, in the countries where cacao is actually grown, the farmers who grow it aren’t sitting around eating chocolate bars all day, and they aren’t getting much of the economic benefits of the world’s hunger for chocolate.

[00:17:51] The top four chocolate producing countries in the world, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana and Indonesia are in the bottom 50% when it comes to GDP per capita, when it comes to how wealthy they are, and cacao farmers are some of the poorest people in these countries.

[00:18:10] And when it comes to the countries that actually eat the most chocolate, they are all in Europe, with Switzerland, one of the richest countries in the world, coming in top at an average of 8.8kg of chocolate consumed per person per year.

[00:18:27] So, it is one of the peculiarities, and some might say an injustice, of the chocolate supply chain that the farmer who spends their life harvesting cacao beans in the sweltering midday sun rarely if ever gets to taste a chocolate bar, and the trader who spends their life speculating on the price of cacao beans in an office in New York or London rarely, if ever, actually sees a cacao bean

[00:18:57] OK then, that is it for today's episode on chocolate.

[00:19:03] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:19:05] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:19:24] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:29] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I’ll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]



Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about chocolate, the delicious sweet that is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people around the world every single day.

[00:00:35] We’ll talk about where it first came from, how it used to be consumed, how it developed into the version of chocolate that we know and love today, and we’ll also talk about the economics of chocolate, how it actually goes from a little bean in an equatorial farm through to a bar in your hand.

[00:00:56] The request for this episode came from two members on the same day, actually, Pierluca, from Italy, and Jenneke, from the Netherlands. 

[00:01:04] So, Pierluca and Jenneke, thanks, I hope you enjoy this one.

[00:01:09] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, that transcript and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:25] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally improving their English in a more interesting way. 

[00:01:40] So if that is of interest, and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:50] OK then, chocolate.

[00:01:52] You know chocolate, you probably know something about chocolate, but you probably don’t know everything about the fascinating story of its journey from spiritual bean to the bar that is the centrepiece of the 100 billion dollar chocolate industry today.

[00:02:10] As I guess you do know, chocolate comes from the cacao bean, a bean that is found inside a pod that grows on a tree called the Theobroma Cacao, a tree that is native to central America.

[00:02:25] If you go to Central America, find a Theobroma Cacao tree and cut down a load of cacao pods, you will be disappointed to find that they don’t seem very chocolatey at all.

[00:02:38] If you open up the pod you’ll find a white, sticky pulp, and if you get to the cacao beans and put one in your mouth you will probably think you’ve made a mistake and arrived at the wrong tree. 

[00:02:53] A raw cacao bean is bitter, slightly different to very dark chocolate, but completely different to the kind of chocolate that you’ll find in shops all around the world today, and that millions of people enjoy eating.

[00:03:07] Indeed, when cacao was first discovered, it wasn’t something that was eaten. 

[00:03:13] It was drunk.

[00:03:15] Now, there’s a little bit of debate about when cacao was first discovered.

[00:03:21] In a recent book, called The True History of Chocolate, which, if you are interested in finding out the True History of Chocolate sounds like the sort of book that you should read, the authors suggest that chocolate goes back three or four thousand years.

[00:03:37] It certainly goes back to the indigenous Aztecs, who used to drink a sort of cacao broth

[00:03:44] This wasn’t just raw cacao beans and water.

[00:03:49] The beans would be separated from the cacao pods, then left outside for a week or so to ferment.

[00:03:57] They would then be cleaned and left to dry out in the sun for a couple of weeks, then roasted for another 1 to 2 hours.

[00:04:06] The beans would then be crushed open, and the raw pieces inside could be ground down into a paste.

[00:04:15] And it was this paste that was then used as the base for the drink.

[00:04:21] Depending on how rich you were, you would drink it in different ways.

[00:04:26] For a cheap, normal day-to-day drink these roasted cacao beans would be mixed with maize, with corn, and spices, for a warm, refreshing and revitalising drink.

[00:04:41] But if money was no object, you wouldn’t bother with the added corn, instead you would add more pure cacao and extra spices.

[00:04:52] For the Aztecs, these cacao drinks were about more than just being tasty.

[00:04:58] They viewed it as having spiritual and medicinal properties, they thought that it could cure those who drank it of illnesses such as fever and tiredness, and - somewhat surprisingly when we think of the effects of chocolate today, they thought it could cure tooth decay. They thought it could cure problems with your teeth.

[00:05:20] The Aztecs believed the bean was a gift from the gods, specifically a gift from a god called Quetzalcoatl, the god of wind and wisdom.

[00:05:31] One ruler of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, reportedly believed so strongly in its beneficial properties that he would drink it 50 times a day.

[00:05:43] When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Americas they were initially confused about this strange bean that the local people were so passionate about.

[00:05:54] The King of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, our 50 cups of chocolate a day ruler, reportedly threw a banquet for Cortes and his men that included vast amounts of chocolate, or vast amounts of this cacao drink.

[00:06:08] The Spaniards tasted the cacao drink, but weren’t convinced, with one even writing that it was a ‘bitter drink for pigs’.

[00:06:21] But Cortes saw that it was considered pretty special and, after he had taken Montezuma II prisoner, he took some cacao beans back to Spain.

[00:06:31] So, this is the next step on chocolate’s journey, its arrival in Europe. 

[00:06:38] Exactly when this precious bean first arrived on European shores is debated, but it’s likely some time at the start of the 16th century.

[00:06:50] But for the majority of the 16th century, it was confined to Spain, it didn’t really spread much further afield.

[00:07:00] It was consumed in a similar way to the Aztecs, as a drink, but it was very much a preserve of the wealthiest in society. 

[00:07:08] These beans were in scarce supply, they had to be shipped over from the Americas, and it was a real luxury.

[00:07:20] By the start of the 17th century this cacao drink had spread to France. 

[00:07:26] In 1615, when King Louis XIII of France married the daughter of King Phillip III of Spain, the daughter, Anne, brought cacao to celebrate the marriage.

[00:07:39] Chocolate, or rather cacao, was still in its liquid form, a cacao drink, but it was starting to take off.

[00:07:48] It had spread to Britain, and European countries with colonial empires started to set up their own cacao plantations in equatorial countries. 

[00:07:59] Cacao requires very specific conditions to grow.

[00:08:03] It can only grow in environments with very high humidity, the trees require a lot of shade, and if the temperature drops below about 18 degrees Celsius the plants will die.

[00:08:16] So, you simply can’t grow it in Europe in natural conditions, but that didn’t stop Europeans from developing quite the taste for it.

[00:08:27] In wealthy circles in Europe it was considered a fashionable, healthy drink, full of beneficial properties.

[00:08:35] It was believed to be good for your health, and was also considered to be an aphrodisiac, a substance that increases sexual desire.

[00:08:45] Indeed, Casanova, perhaps the most famous European womaniser, was reportedly a huge fan of cacao. 

[00:08:54] But these Europeans were still drinking cacao, not eating it. 

[00:08:59] What you and I know as chocolate wasn’t to come until 1828, and was to be invented by a man from a country that you might not traditionally associate with chocolate - The Netherlands.

[00:09:13] In 1828 a chemist from Amsterdam, called Coenraad Johannes van Houten, invented a way to make powdered chocolate.

[00:09:22] He invented a press that could separate about half the natural fat in the bit in the middle of the cacao bean

[00:09:31] This left a sort of cacao powder, which could either be used for drinking or could be mixed again with the cacao butter or sugar to create a solid version, something similar to what we would now know as a chocolate bar.

[00:09:49] Van Houten patented his machine, he protected his invention so only he could separate the fat from the cacao bean in this way, but the patent only lasted for 7 years, expiring in 1835.

[00:10:05] The century following this can be described as the golden age of chocolate, and many of the chocolates that you and I probably enjoy today were invented in this period, from the 1830s to the 1930s.

[00:10:20] The first chocolate bar was made in 1847 by a company called Fry’s in England.

[00:10:28] Then in 1875 a Swiss chocolatier called Daniel Peter had the bright idea of adding milk to chocolate to create, you guessed it, milk chocolate.

[00:10:40] And four years later, in 1879, another Swiss chocolatier, a man called Rodolphe Lindt invented something called conching, which is a process that changes the chocolate from a powdery state to more of a liquidy one. And, makes the flavour more evenly distributed and more delicious.

[00:11:03] With the industrialisation of the production of chocolate, and a reduction in the cost of bringing the cacao beans over from the Americas, what was previously something just for the wealthiest became a lot more affordable to people in Europe.

[00:11:19] The arrival of the chocolate bar came at almost the perfect time.

[00:11:24] Firstly, the European workforce was changing. People were starting to work away from their homes, people were commuting, and needing to eat ‘on the go’.

[00:11:37] Chocolate was an ideal snack. It was tasty, it filled you up, it didn’t need to be cooked or heated, you didn’t need to get your hands dirty, and it was affordable. 

[00:11:48] It was perfect.

[00:11:50] And at the start of the 20th century it was also the beginning of the advertising boom. Chocolate was a perfect product to be put on billboards, on posters around cities, to be advertised in magazines and newspapers, and of course later on, on TV.

[00:12:08] It was a product that anyone could enjoy, man or woman, young or old, and given that it was now mass produced, it was cheap and therefore enjoyed by millions of people every day.

[00:12:23] Now, the flip side of this affordability is how chocolate was and is produced. 

[00:12:30] If we go back to the early days of cacao, the beans were frequently produced by slave labour, by people working in horrendous conditions while the European rich enjoyed their delicious chocolatey beverages.

[00:12:46] And even now, despite the fact that it’s the world’s favourite sweet snack by a country mile, cacao farmers , the people who actually produce the chocolate are some of the poorest people in the world.

[00:13:01] Farming cacao, farming chocolate, is difficult, tough work.

[00:13:06] Each cacao pod produces about 30 to 40 beans, and it takes around 80 beans to make 100 grammes of chocolate. 

[00:13:13] So, depending on the size and purity of the chocolate bar, it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 entire pods to make your chocolate bar. 

[00:13:28] And one worker can separate the beans from about 2,000 pods per day. So, if you do the maths, a worker can separate enough beans to make anywhere from 400 to 1,000 bars of chocolate. 

[00:13:44] And that’s just the separation stage.

[00:13:47] So if you think of all the other costs involved in the other stages, and remember that you can buy a chocolate bar from your local supermarket for really not very much money at all, you realise that these people are evidently not getting much of the final price that you are paying.

[00:14:05] Related to this is the question of who else is involved in the process of getting a cacao bean from a tree near the Equator through to your hand, ready to be scoffed down.

[00:14:19] Cacao, like most commodities, such as coffee or sugar, is often bought and sold by trading houses, companies that will buy up large quantities of cacao in order to sell it on to chocolate companies.

[00:14:34] The price of cacao goes up and down a lot based on its supply, based on how much of it there is. 

[00:14:41] If there is a lot of cacao on the market, the price tends to go down, and if there isn’t enough cacao available, the price goes up.

[00:14:50] But you and I, as consumers of chocolate, as people who eat chocolate, we don’t really see this.

[00:14:57] We don’t go to a shop one day and find that a chocolate bar is 50 cents and then come back the next week to see it’s at 80, then the week after it’s at 30. 

[00:15:08] One of the reasons for this is because there is a whole industry of people buying and selling things called chocolate ‘futures’, or cacao futures

[00:15:19] You can think of these as a contract to buy something at a fixed price in the future, no matter what the actual market price at that time is.

[00:15:30] To give you an example, if the price of cacao now is $3,000 a tonne, a cacao farmer can sell a tonne of cacao now for $3,000. 

[00:15:43] Or, someone could go to the farmer and say “I’ll buy a tonne of cacao from you for $3,000 in 6 months time”.

[00:15:53] If they agree to do this, the farmer knows that they will have a buyer for their product for $3,000. And for the trader, they know that they can get this cacao in 6 months time for a fixed price.

[00:16:08] But if the price in 6 months time is higher, let’s say it's $3,500, the trader can pay the arranged $3,000 price, and sell the cacao immediately on to someone else and take a $500 profit.

[00:16:24] And this is what's happening all over the world, except of course in much higher quantities than people buying a tonne at a time.

[00:16:33] Indeed, a British commodities trader, a man called Anthony Ward once bought up contracts for 15% of the world’s cacao, 15% of all the cacao in the world, earning himself the nickname Chocfinger, after the Bond villain Goldfinger. 

[00:16:53] These traders make a profit from knowing what direction the price will go - they try to get as much information as possible on future harvests, whether there will be the right amount of rain and so on, in order to make bets on the price.

[00:17:10] And most don’t ever actually come into contact with a single cacao bean - the contracts are sold on to chocolate producers, who want to deal with traders who can sell them hundreds or thousands of tonnes of cacao, rather than a few tonnes at a time.

[00:17:26] And the great irony perhaps of chocolate is that, while it is such a common, affordable snack for most of us in the West, where we can never actually grow it, in the countries where cacao is actually grown, the farmers who grow it aren’t sitting around eating chocolate bars all day, and they aren’t getting much of the economic benefits of the world’s hunger for chocolate.

[00:17:51] The top four chocolate producing countries in the world, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana and Indonesia are in the bottom 50% when it comes to GDP per capita, when it comes to how wealthy they are, and cacao farmers are some of the poorest people in these countries.

[00:18:10] And when it comes to the countries that actually eat the most chocolate, they are all in Europe, with Switzerland, one of the richest countries in the world, coming in top at an average of 8.8kg of chocolate consumed per person per year.

[00:18:27] So, it is one of the peculiarities, and some might say an injustice, of the chocolate supply chain that the farmer who spends their life harvesting cacao beans in the sweltering midday sun rarely if ever gets to taste a chocolate bar, and the trader who spends their life speculating on the price of cacao beans in an office in New York or London rarely, if ever, actually sees a cacao bean

[00:18:57] OK then, that is it for today's episode on chocolate.

[00:19:03] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:19:05] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:19:24] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:29] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I’ll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]



[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about chocolate, the delicious sweet that is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people around the world every single day.

[00:00:35] We’ll talk about where it first came from, how it used to be consumed, how it developed into the version of chocolate that we know and love today, and we’ll also talk about the economics of chocolate, how it actually goes from a little bean in an equatorial farm through to a bar in your hand.

[00:00:56] The request for this episode came from two members on the same day, actually, Pierluca, from Italy, and Jenneke, from the Netherlands. 

[00:01:04] So, Pierluca and Jenneke, thanks, I hope you enjoy this one.

[00:01:09] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can get all of the bonus episodes, plus the subtitles, that transcript and the key vocabulary for this episode and all of our other ones over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:25] This is also where you can check out becoming a member of Leonardo English and join a community of curious minds from all over the world, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally improving their English in a more interesting way. 

[00:01:40] So if that is of interest, and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:50] OK then, chocolate.

[00:01:52] You know chocolate, you probably know something about chocolate, but you probably don’t know everything about the fascinating story of its journey from spiritual bean to the bar that is the centrepiece of the 100 billion dollar chocolate industry today.

[00:02:10] As I guess you do know, chocolate comes from the cacao bean, a bean that is found inside a pod that grows on a tree called the Theobroma Cacao, a tree that is native to central America.

[00:02:25] If you go to Central America, find a Theobroma Cacao tree and cut down a load of cacao pods, you will be disappointed to find that they don’t seem very chocolatey at all.

[00:02:38] If you open up the pod you’ll find a white, sticky pulp, and if you get to the cacao beans and put one in your mouth you will probably think you’ve made a mistake and arrived at the wrong tree. 

[00:02:53] A raw cacao bean is bitter, slightly different to very dark chocolate, but completely different to the kind of chocolate that you’ll find in shops all around the world today, and that millions of people enjoy eating.

[00:03:07] Indeed, when cacao was first discovered, it wasn’t something that was eaten. 

[00:03:13] It was drunk.

[00:03:15] Now, there’s a little bit of debate about when cacao was first discovered.

[00:03:21] In a recent book, called The True History of Chocolate, which, if you are interested in finding out the True History of Chocolate sounds like the sort of book that you should read, the authors suggest that chocolate goes back three or four thousand years.

[00:03:37] It certainly goes back to the indigenous Aztecs, who used to drink a sort of cacao broth

[00:03:44] This wasn’t just raw cacao beans and water.

[00:03:49] The beans would be separated from the cacao pods, then left outside for a week or so to ferment.

[00:03:57] They would then be cleaned and left to dry out in the sun for a couple of weeks, then roasted for another 1 to 2 hours.

[00:04:06] The beans would then be crushed open, and the raw pieces inside could be ground down into a paste.

[00:04:15] And it was this paste that was then used as the base for the drink.

[00:04:21] Depending on how rich you were, you would drink it in different ways.

[00:04:26] For a cheap, normal day-to-day drink these roasted cacao beans would be mixed with maize, with corn, and spices, for a warm, refreshing and revitalising drink.

[00:04:41] But if money was no object, you wouldn’t bother with the added corn, instead you would add more pure cacao and extra spices.

[00:04:52] For the Aztecs, these cacao drinks were about more than just being tasty.

[00:04:58] They viewed it as having spiritual and medicinal properties, they thought that it could cure those who drank it of illnesses such as fever and tiredness, and - somewhat surprisingly when we think of the effects of chocolate today, they thought it could cure tooth decay. They thought it could cure problems with your teeth.

[00:05:20] The Aztecs believed the bean was a gift from the gods, specifically a gift from a god called Quetzalcoatl, the god of wind and wisdom.

[00:05:31] One ruler of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, reportedly believed so strongly in its beneficial properties that he would drink it 50 times a day.

[00:05:43] When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Americas they were initially confused about this strange bean that the local people were so passionate about.

[00:05:54] The King of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, our 50 cups of chocolate a day ruler, reportedly threw a banquet for Cortes and his men that included vast amounts of chocolate, or vast amounts of this cacao drink.

[00:06:08] The Spaniards tasted the cacao drink, but weren’t convinced, with one even writing that it was a ‘bitter drink for pigs’.

[00:06:21] But Cortes saw that it was considered pretty special and, after he had taken Montezuma II prisoner, he took some cacao beans back to Spain.

[00:06:31] So, this is the next step on chocolate’s journey, its arrival in Europe. 

[00:06:38] Exactly when this precious bean first arrived on European shores is debated, but it’s likely some time at the start of the 16th century.

[00:06:50] But for the majority of the 16th century, it was confined to Spain, it didn’t really spread much further afield.

[00:07:00] It was consumed in a similar way to the Aztecs, as a drink, but it was very much a preserve of the wealthiest in society. 

[00:07:08] These beans were in scarce supply, they had to be shipped over from the Americas, and it was a real luxury.

[00:07:20] By the start of the 17th century this cacao drink had spread to France. 

[00:07:26] In 1615, when King Louis XIII of France married the daughter of King Phillip III of Spain, the daughter, Anne, brought cacao to celebrate the marriage.

[00:07:39] Chocolate, or rather cacao, was still in its liquid form, a cacao drink, but it was starting to take off.

[00:07:48] It had spread to Britain, and European countries with colonial empires started to set up their own cacao plantations in equatorial countries. 

[00:07:59] Cacao requires very specific conditions to grow.

[00:08:03] It can only grow in environments with very high humidity, the trees require a lot of shade, and if the temperature drops below about 18 degrees Celsius the plants will die.

[00:08:16] So, you simply can’t grow it in Europe in natural conditions, but that didn’t stop Europeans from developing quite the taste for it.

[00:08:27] In wealthy circles in Europe it was considered a fashionable, healthy drink, full of beneficial properties.

[00:08:35] It was believed to be good for your health, and was also considered to be an aphrodisiac, a substance that increases sexual desire.

[00:08:45] Indeed, Casanova, perhaps the most famous European womaniser, was reportedly a huge fan of cacao. 

[00:08:54] But these Europeans were still drinking cacao, not eating it. 

[00:08:59] What you and I know as chocolate wasn’t to come until 1828, and was to be invented by a man from a country that you might not traditionally associate with chocolate - The Netherlands.

[00:09:13] In 1828 a chemist from Amsterdam, called Coenraad Johannes van Houten, invented a way to make powdered chocolate.

[00:09:22] He invented a press that could separate about half the natural fat in the bit in the middle of the cacao bean

[00:09:31] This left a sort of cacao powder, which could either be used for drinking or could be mixed again with the cacao butter or sugar to create a solid version, something similar to what we would now know as a chocolate bar.

[00:09:49] Van Houten patented his machine, he protected his invention so only he could separate the fat from the cacao bean in this way, but the patent only lasted for 7 years, expiring in 1835.

[00:10:05] The century following this can be described as the golden age of chocolate, and many of the chocolates that you and I probably enjoy today were invented in this period, from the 1830s to the 1930s.

[00:10:20] The first chocolate bar was made in 1847 by a company called Fry’s in England.

[00:10:28] Then in 1875 a Swiss chocolatier called Daniel Peter had the bright idea of adding milk to chocolate to create, you guessed it, milk chocolate.

[00:10:40] And four years later, in 1879, another Swiss chocolatier, a man called Rodolphe Lindt invented something called conching, which is a process that changes the chocolate from a powdery state to more of a liquidy one. And, makes the flavour more evenly distributed and more delicious.

[00:11:03] With the industrialisation of the production of chocolate, and a reduction in the cost of bringing the cacao beans over from the Americas, what was previously something just for the wealthiest became a lot more affordable to people in Europe.

[00:11:19] The arrival of the chocolate bar came at almost the perfect time.

[00:11:24] Firstly, the European workforce was changing. People were starting to work away from their homes, people were commuting, and needing to eat ‘on the go’.

[00:11:37] Chocolate was an ideal snack. It was tasty, it filled you up, it didn’t need to be cooked or heated, you didn’t need to get your hands dirty, and it was affordable. 

[00:11:48] It was perfect.

[00:11:50] And at the start of the 20th century it was also the beginning of the advertising boom. Chocolate was a perfect product to be put on billboards, on posters around cities, to be advertised in magazines and newspapers, and of course later on, on TV.

[00:12:08] It was a product that anyone could enjoy, man or woman, young or old, and given that it was now mass produced, it was cheap and therefore enjoyed by millions of people every day.

[00:12:23] Now, the flip side of this affordability is how chocolate was and is produced. 

[00:12:30] If we go back to the early days of cacao, the beans were frequently produced by slave labour, by people working in horrendous conditions while the European rich enjoyed their delicious chocolatey beverages.

[00:12:46] And even now, despite the fact that it’s the world’s favourite sweet snack by a country mile, cacao farmers , the people who actually produce the chocolate are some of the poorest people in the world.

[00:13:01] Farming cacao, farming chocolate, is difficult, tough work.

[00:13:06] Each cacao pod produces about 30 to 40 beans, and it takes around 80 beans to make 100 grammes of chocolate. 

[00:13:13] So, depending on the size and purity of the chocolate bar, it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 entire pods to make your chocolate bar. 

[00:13:28] And one worker can separate the beans from about 2,000 pods per day. So, if you do the maths, a worker can separate enough beans to make anywhere from 400 to 1,000 bars of chocolate. 

[00:13:44] And that’s just the separation stage.

[00:13:47] So if you think of all the other costs involved in the other stages, and remember that you can buy a chocolate bar from your local supermarket for really not very much money at all, you realise that these people are evidently not getting much of the final price that you are paying.

[00:14:05] Related to this is the question of who else is involved in the process of getting a cacao bean from a tree near the Equator through to your hand, ready to be scoffed down.

[00:14:19] Cacao, like most commodities, such as coffee or sugar, is often bought and sold by trading houses, companies that will buy up large quantities of cacao in order to sell it on to chocolate companies.

[00:14:34] The price of cacao goes up and down a lot based on its supply, based on how much of it there is. 

[00:14:41] If there is a lot of cacao on the market, the price tends to go down, and if there isn’t enough cacao available, the price goes up.

[00:14:50] But you and I, as consumers of chocolate, as people who eat chocolate, we don’t really see this.

[00:14:57] We don’t go to a shop one day and find that a chocolate bar is 50 cents and then come back the next week to see it’s at 80, then the week after it’s at 30. 

[00:15:08] One of the reasons for this is because there is a whole industry of people buying and selling things called chocolate ‘futures’, or cacao futures

[00:15:19] You can think of these as a contract to buy something at a fixed price in the future, no matter what the actual market price at that time is.

[00:15:30] To give you an example, if the price of cacao now is $3,000 a tonne, a cacao farmer can sell a tonne of cacao now for $3,000. 

[00:15:43] Or, someone could go to the farmer and say “I’ll buy a tonne of cacao from you for $3,000 in 6 months time”.

[00:15:53] If they agree to do this, the farmer knows that they will have a buyer for their product for $3,000. And for the trader, they know that they can get this cacao in 6 months time for a fixed price.

[00:16:08] But if the price in 6 months time is higher, let’s say it's $3,500, the trader can pay the arranged $3,000 price, and sell the cacao immediately on to someone else and take a $500 profit.

[00:16:24] And this is what's happening all over the world, except of course in much higher quantities than people buying a tonne at a time.

[00:16:33] Indeed, a British commodities trader, a man called Anthony Ward once bought up contracts for 15% of the world’s cacao, 15% of all the cacao in the world, earning himself the nickname Chocfinger, after the Bond villain Goldfinger. 

[00:16:53] These traders make a profit from knowing what direction the price will go - they try to get as much information as possible on future harvests, whether there will be the right amount of rain and so on, in order to make bets on the price.

[00:17:10] And most don’t ever actually come into contact with a single cacao bean - the contracts are sold on to chocolate producers, who want to deal with traders who can sell them hundreds or thousands of tonnes of cacao, rather than a few tonnes at a time.

[00:17:26] And the great irony perhaps of chocolate is that, while it is such a common, affordable snack for most of us in the West, where we can never actually grow it, in the countries where cacao is actually grown, the farmers who grow it aren’t sitting around eating chocolate bars all day, and they aren’t getting much of the economic benefits of the world’s hunger for chocolate.

[00:17:51] The top four chocolate producing countries in the world, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana and Indonesia are in the bottom 50% when it comes to GDP per capita, when it comes to how wealthy they are, and cacao farmers are some of the poorest people in these countries.

[00:18:10] And when it comes to the countries that actually eat the most chocolate, they are all in Europe, with Switzerland, one of the richest countries in the world, coming in top at an average of 8.8kg of chocolate consumed per person per year.

[00:18:27] So, it is one of the peculiarities, and some might say an injustice, of the chocolate supply chain that the farmer who spends their life harvesting cacao beans in the sweltering midday sun rarely if ever gets to taste a chocolate bar, and the trader who spends their life speculating on the price of cacao beans in an office in New York or London rarely, if ever, actually sees a cacao bean

[00:18:57] OK then, that is it for today's episode on chocolate.

[00:19:03] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:19:05] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, the subtitles and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:19:24] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:29] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I’ll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]