Add to bookbag
Title: Chocolate
Original Title: Chocolat
Volume and Page: Vol. 3 (1753), pp. 359–360
Author: Denis Diderot (biography)
Translator: Colleen Oberc [University of Michigan,]; Samantha Schaeffer [University of Michigan,]; Courtney Wilder [University of Michigan,]; Kyra Hauck [University of Michigan,]
Subject terms:
Domestic economy
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. To use this work in a way not covered by the license, please see .

Citation (MLA): Diderot, Denis. "Chocolate." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Colleen Oberc, Samantha Schaeffer, Courtney Wilder, and Kyra Hauck. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2015. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Chocolat," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 3. Paris, 1753.
Citation (Chicago): Diderot, Denis. "Chocolate." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Colleen Oberc, Samantha Schaeffer, Courtney Wilder, and Kyra Hauck. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2015. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Chocolat," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 3:359–360 (Paris, 1753).

Chocolate , a type of cake or bar with a cacao base and prepared with different ingredients, the base of which is the cacao bean. See Cacao. The beverage made from this bar retains the same name [chocolate] and originates in the Americas: The Spaniards found it widely used in Mexico when they conquered it around 1520.

Indians, who have used this beverage since the dawn of time, prepared it in a very simple way: they would roast the cacao beans in clay pots, crush them between two stones, and after having blanched them, melted the resulting substance in warm water and mixed it with chili peppers, see Chili peppers; those who follow this practice a little more strictly would add achiote ( see Achiote) to the mixture to give it color, [1] while atole would serve to thicken it. Atole is a stew made from corn flour or Indian wheat, either spiced up by the Mexicans or whose flavor was enhanced by Spanish nuns or ladies, not with spices, but with sugar, cinnamon, scented oils, amber, musk, etc. [2] In these regions, atole is used in the same way as rice flour in the Levant. All these ingredients mixed together give this composition so rough an appearance and so wild a taste, that a Spanish soldier once said that it would be more appropriate to throw it to pigs than to serve it to people; and that he would never have gotten used to it, if it were not for the shortage of wine that forced him to such a violent alternative, so that he could alternate pure water with something else.

Spaniards, taught by the Mexicans and convinced through their own experience that this beverage, though unrefined, was good for the health, set out to correct its defects by adding sugar, some spices from the Orient, and several local drugs that it would be unnecessary to list here, as we know little about them beyond their names and since, of all these ingredients, scarcely any of them except the vanilla leaf has arrived her (just as cinnamon is the only spice that has been generally accepted) and remained in the composition of chocolate .

Vanilla is a brown pod, with a very mellow aroma; it is flatter and longer than our beans, and has within it a honey-like substance, filled with little black and shiny seeds. It must be picked young, fat, and plump, and one should ensure that it has not been rubbed with a balm or stored in a damp place. See Vanilla [Vanilla (Exotic Botany),Vanilla (Natural History)].

The pleasant scent and sublime taste it imparts to chocolate have made it highly recommended; but a long experience having shown that it could potentially upset one's stomach, its use has decreased; and people who prefer the care of their health to the pleasure of their senses, have stopped using it altogether. In Spain and in Italy, chocolate prepared without vanilla has been termed the healthy chocolate ; and in our French islands in the Americas, where vanilla is neither rare nor expensive, as it is in Europe, it is not used at all, even though the consumption of chocolate is as high there as in any other part of the world.

However, as many people still favor the use of vanilla, and as it is only fair that we should in some way respect their opinion, we shall use vanilla in the composition of the chocolate in what seems to be the best way and in the best amount. We can say only that it seems the best, since when it comes to taste there is an infinite variety of opinions, everyone wants theirs to be reckoned with, and one person would add what another omits; and even if we were to agree on the ingredients to be added, it would be impossible to determine proportions on which everyone would agree; it will suffice to choose them to suit the greatest number of people, thus forming the taste that is most popular.

When the cacao paste has been finely crushed on the stone ( see the article Cacao), sugar which has been sifted through a silk sieve is added; the correct proportion of cacao and sugar is equal parts of both: however, we reduce the amount of sugar by one quarter, to prevent the paste from drying out, and also to render it less sensitive to changes in the air, and less subject as a result to worms. But that reserved quarter of sugar is replaced in the preparation of the chocolate beverage.

The sugar having been well mixed into the cacao paste, one adds a very fine powder made from vanilla seeds and cinnamon sticks finely cut and sifted together; this new mixture is ground on the stone; once all the ingredients are well incorporated, the mixture is poured into tin molds, where it takes the shape we have chosen to give it, and its natural hardness. If one is fond of scents one can add a small amount of amber oil before pouring it into the molds.

When chocolate is made without vanilla, the proportion of cinnamon is of two drachmes for each pound of cacao; [3] but if vanilla is added, the amount of cinnamon should be cut at least in half. As for vanilla, the amount is arbitrary: one, two, or three drops, or even more, for each pound of cacao, as desired.

Chocolatiers, to make it seem like they have used a lot of vanilla, mix in pepper, ginger, etc. There are even some people accustomed to strongly seasoned foods who would not have it any other way; but, as these spices can but only heat up the body, wise people do not give into these excesses and will be careful never to enjoy any chocolate whose composition they are not sure of.

Chocolate made in this fashion has the advantage that if one is in a hurry to go out, or if one is traveling and doesn’t have the time to make it in a beverage, one can eat one ounce of the bar, and drink right after it, leaving it to the stomach to mix up this impromptu breakfast.

In the Caribbean, they make blocks of pure cacao, without any other ingredients. See Cacao. And when they want to turn the chocolate into a drink, here is how they do it.

Preparation of chocolate in the fashion of the French Islands in the Americas . One grates the cacao bars into very thin slices with a knife, or rather with a flat grater, when the bars are dry enough so that they don’t go bad; when the desired quantity has been grated (for example, four heaping tablespoons, which would amount to one ounce), add two or three pinches of cinnamon that has been passed through a sieve, and about two tablespoons of granulated sugar.

The mixture is then placed in a chocolate pot with a fresh whole egg, that is, both the yolk and the white; mix well, using a beater until it is reduced to the consistency of liquid honey; then, pour boiling liquid (water or milk, as desired) into it while beating continuously, so that everything mixes well.

Finally, put the dish is on the stove, or in a double-boiler over a pot full of boiling water; as soon as the chocolate comes to a boil, remove the chocolate pot from the heat; and after beating the chocolate vigorously, pour the mixture, in several batches, and still quite frothy, into the cups. To enhance the taste, before pouring the mixture one could add a spoonful of orange flower water, into which one or two drops of amber oil have been dissolved.

This way of preparing chocolate has several inherent advantages that make it preferable to all others.

First, one can be sure that, having been prepared well, this chocolate has an exquisite perfume and a great delicacy of taste; it is furthermore extremely gentle on your stomach, and leaves no messy residues either in the chocolate pot, or in the cups.

Second, one has the pleasure of preparing it oneself and according to one’s own taste, adding more or less sugar and cinnamon as desired, choosing whether to add orange flower water and amber oil; in a word, to make whatever changes one might find agreeable.

Third, by not adding anything that could destroy the good qualities of the cacao bean, the beverage proves to be so neutral that one can enjoy it at any time of the day, and at any age, in summer as well as winter, without fearing the least problem: whereas chocolate seasoned with vanilla and other hot and bitter ingredients can sometimes be dangerous, especially during the summer for the young and for those with lively, dry constitutions. The glass of cold water that one usually drinks before or after the chocolate can only temporarily alleviate the burning sensation that it ignites in the blood and the viscera, once the water has passed through the digestive tract.

Fourth, this chocolate is so cheap that a cup of it costs barely a sou. If artisans were to be told of this, few would fail to profit from such an easy, gracious, and cheap breakfast that will sustain you until lunch without any other food, be it solid or liquid. Histoire naturelle du cacao . [4] SeeCacao .


1. Achiote here refers to a paste made from the seeds of a tropical plant (Bixa orellana) native to the Americas which is still used to add color and flavor to foods. See the Wikipedia article: Achiote. Diderot refers the reader to the article Roucou (although the article, written by Jaucourt, bears a title with two alternate spellings: Rocou ou Rocourt ). These variously spelled terms derive from the Tupi word, uru'ku , according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Also, known as annatto , its scent is described as “slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg” by the Encyclopedia of Spices.

2. Atole is described similarly in Wikipedia as “a traditional masa-based hot corn based beverage of Mexican and Central American origin.”

3. According to the Oxford English Dictionary , a drachme is “a weight approximately equivalent to that of the Greek coin [drachma]. Hence, in Apothecaries' weight = 60 grains, or 1/8 of an ounce, in Avoirdupois weight = 27⅓ grains or 1/16 of an ounce.”

4. The reference is to Histoire naturelle du cacao et du sucre, published in Paris in 1719. An English translation, The Natural History of Chocolate was published in London in 1730. The author is D. de Quelus, who was involved in the French chocolate trade in the Americas for fifteen years.