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chocolate, luxury

The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets
Miriam Kasin HospodarMiriam Kasin Hospodar

chocolate, luxury, 

refers to high-quality chocolates and chocolate confections that are lushly packaged and often sold in elegant specialty shops. The cachet of specialty brands and confectioners, and of course price, figure into what are now considered luxury chocolates. However, the distinction between high-end and ordinary chocolate scarcely existed until the early twentieth century, when chocolate was first mass-produced from inexpensive materials. Before then, chocolate was always a luxury good.

In Aztec society, where Europeans first encountered it in 1519, chocolate was served as a beverage that only the highest classes were allowed to consume—the royalty, the military, and long-distance traders. Beginning in the mid-1500s, when conquistadors brought it to the court of King Philip II of Spain, chocolate became a luxurious imported good available only to royalty and nobility, and to Catholic clergy because of their foothold in the New World. Served almost exclusively as a beverage, chocolate spread to European royal courts through marriages and alliances.

Chocolate became available to other social classes through the proliferation of coffeehouses and chocolate houses in the 1600s. See café. However, it was more expensive than coffee and remained a luxury drink. After the French Revolution, artisan chocolatiers began setting up shop in Paris. In 1807 Grimod de la Reynière’s L’Almanach des gourmands, a publication with food reviews, praised a shop for its “exquisite chocolate prepared with cacao selected with uncommon care.”

In the nineteenth century, technologies invented in Europe transformed chocolate into a substance that could be made into bars and confections. Entrepreneurs gradually realized the profits to be made by bringing such products affordably to the general public.

Some of those who mass-produced chocolate confections marketed them with an aura of luxury. Festive packaging, often with themes of holidays and romance, symbolized luxury even when the chocolate was less expensive. In England in 1861, Cadbury created elegant packaging called “The Fancy Box” for its filled chocolate candies. Over the years the boxes became more elaborately decorated. The candies were given French names to make them sound more elegant. Overall, luxury chocolates took the form of beautifully presented candies. See bonbons; chocolates, boxed; and chocolates, filled.

By the early 1900s, especially with the rise of Hershey’s in the United States, chocolate became affordable for almost everyone. See hershey’s. However, the quality of chocolate suffered. Manufacturers used inexpensive Forastero cacao beans and substituted cheaper fats for cocoa butter. Such material was used ubiquitously in chocolate candies, including those represented as luxury chocolates, until the late 1980s. The difference between what was sold as a luxury good and what was marketed as inexpensive chocolate often lay in the presentation and the marketing.

Some of the first chocolate candies presented as luxury goods in the United States were Sherry’s, founded by Louis Sherry, whose name was associated with New York’s Sherry-Netherland Hotel even though he died in 1926, a year before it opened. From 1881 to 1919, Sherry sold expensive chocolate confections made from ingredients “of the highest quality” to wealthy customers such as J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts in his upscale candy shop. He packaged his chocolate candies in signature ribbon-festooned boxes.

Almond Roca, founded in 1912, consisted of chocolate-covered toffees sold in supermarkets throughout the United States. But they were individually wrapped in gold-colored aluminum foil and packaged in beautiful pink cans that gave the candy an air of luxury.

Around 1985, with France leading the way, a few small companies such as Valrhona began to make chocolate from high-quality beans from specific regions. See chocolate, single origin and valrhona. The rare, prized Criollo variety was sought out and employed (and more trees were planted as demand increased), followed by Trinitario, a cross between Criollo and Forastero beans. In 2003 Domori, an artisanal Italian company, produced the first 100 percent Criollo bar. As high-quality chocolate became available, artisan confectioners sprang up to create chocolate candies with fillings or additions made with quality ingredients to match the chocolate.

The concept of luxury chocolate begins with the quality of the chocolate itself, emphasizing single-origin chocolates and the concept of terroir, or the skillful blending of high-quality beans. Truly excellent chocolate will also contain cocoa butter as its fat and pure vanilla. See vanilla. The packaging may list the percentage of cocoa solids (ground cacao beans) contained in the bar. Such chocolate is mostly produced by small companies, making quality chocolates rare and exclusive. They are usually carried in high-end retail stores and through exclusive websites. Wine pairings with specific chocolate bars add to the perception of luxury.

Some artisan confectioners began experimenting with unusual flavors such as tea, wasabi, bacon, mushrooms, beer, basil, and fennel pollen. Others feature regional ingredients. Handmade candies are often miniature works of art, and some artisan shops have become destinations for people seeking the finest foods. With ever more innovations in agriculture, manufacture, and confections, the concept of luxury chocolate will continue to evolve.

See also café; chocolate, post-columbian; chocolate, pre-columbian; cocoa; confection; and toffee.


Doutre-Roussel, Chloé. The Chocolate Connoisseur. New York: Tarcher, 2005.Find this resource:

Rosenblum, Mort. Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light. New York: North Point, 2005.Find this resource:

Miriam Kasin Hospodar