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IP Strategy

Valentine’s Day Special: Is Innovation Killing our Romance with Chocolate?

Are you hoping to share a box of aerated fat-based confectionery [1] with your darling this Valentine’s Day? Perhaps woo your love with an indulgent edible composition [2] or set a delicious mood with Organoleptically enhanced white chocolate [3]. Do you find it hard to resist, or is innovation killing our romance with chocolate?

Pure Beginnings

The Aztecs and the Mayans are given credit for being the first to harvest the earth-borne treasure of cacao for consumption. It was a simple seed from native trees. People discovered the delicious pulp, declared it a fruit of the gods and began domesticating the trees for mass production.  First used for religious rituals, the medicinal properties of cacao were early recognized. As time passed and the human palate evolved to want more of the cacao bean, people began to enjoy it not only as a warm drink but also as a fermented one.

It was the Spanish, who, after conquering the Aztecs, brought the prized chocolate to Europe. Europeans were not as accustomed to the natural bitterness of the liquid. So, to please the courts, the Spanish presented the first chocolate innovation in the 16th century: add sugar. And Europe fell in love.

Innovation and Infatuation

As the demand for chocolate continually grew through the 16th and into the 17th and 18th centuries, two problems tainted people’s love: first, the production process was manual and very slow; second, despite the addition of sweeteners, a little bitterness remained. Of course, when faced with problems, the inventors come to the rescue. A father-and-son duo, Casparus Van Houten Sr. and Coenraad Van Houten, addressed both issues.

Casparus Van Houten Sr. was a Dutch chocolate maker. To keep up with the public’s hunger for chocolate, Van Houten needed a faster process for producing cocoa powder. His solution was a hydraulic press. In 1828, the Dutch King granted him a patent for using a hydraulic press as a chocolate processing method. In his factory, the fat was pressed from the roasted cocoa beans to create a substance that was then ground further into a light powder. [4-6]

Coenraad Van Houten was Casparus’ son and, conveniently, a chemist. Chocolatiers had been adding milk to chocolate to enhance the drinkability and flavors such as cinnamon and vanilla to promote more edibles. Still, the younger Van Houten knew that something was missing. In 1815, his novel contribution to chocolate was adding alkaline salt to reduce the bitterness. The salt also allowed the cocoa powder to more easily mix with milk and water. Van Houten’s salting process, along with his father’s powdering process, produced the dark and pleasing Dutch chocolate — and a love revitalized. [4-6]

By the mid-1800’s Dutch chocolate was recognized as superior to any other, and, for many people, remains so today.

Van Houten's hydraulic press

Van Houten’s hydraulic press

Is it Still Chocolate?

What has the 20th Century done to chocolate? We have a range of qualities and price points, from those fine Dutch varieties to those waxy foil-wrapped chunks you find on the drugstore shelves. Not to mention the chocolate and chocolate-like substances that are found in, on, and through our food. Consumers, far from the ancients and royals that brought chocolate to us, have different demands and expectations that make our relationship with chocolate very complicated. Here are some of the latest inventions from the United States that have changed how chocolate is treated and enjoyed*:

  • US 8,460,739 (2013) Process for making red or purple cocoa material
  • US 8,668,950 (2014) Cocoa nuggets and method of making same
  • US 9,185,923 (2015) Printing 3D tempered chocolate
  • US 9,339,048 (2016) Method of making an edible chocolate confectionery
  • US 9,655,374 (2017) Process for making a chocolate food product
  • US 9,701,986 (2017) Microbial composition for the fermentation of cocoa material

It’s a little, well, disheartening.

Trending to Purity

Thanks to the green movement and trends toward sustainability and just the desire to simplify our food, we might be getting back to our first love for pure chocolate. According to [7], consumers will be looking for healthier and cleaner ways to get their chocolate. We are seeing a whole new market for healthy chocolate bars. Manufacturers are looking for methods to reduce milk and sugar content and maintain a higher percentage of pure cacao. Remember, some of the first uses for cacao were medicinal and religious. We are now looking for holistic ways to incorporate chocolate into our lives — as if it were new.

Is the next step in 21st-century chocolate innovation learning how to love it again?


[1] US 9,648,893.

[2] US 8,658,238.

[3] US 8,137,725.