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Chocolate and the Military – Quite a History!

July 22, 2016

When the fourth of July peeks its head around the corner (armed with sparklers, american flags, and patriotism) chocolate is not the first thing that comes to mind. Normally, you don’t think of chocolate as an Independence Day dessert; maybe as something enjoyed on sunny summer days in the form of ice cream, or as an integral part of a s’more, but nothing more, right?

Well, chocolate and independence have a lot more in common than one would think; in fact, the “bittersweet” relationship between chocolate and the U.S. military goes as far back as the Revolutionary War when soldiers eagerly consumed it, not in the bar form that we all know today, but by making it into hot chocolate. The chocolate they received came in the form of a dense cake made from ground cocoa nibs which they shaved into boiling water to make hot cocoa. This drink was considered satisfying and rejuvenating, making it the perfect pick-me-up for a weary soldier.

The chocolate, in the shape of solid cakes, was easy to transport and did not spoil easily which quickly made it become an unofficial ration of the military. In order to keep the cost of chocolate affordable for the soldiers, and to defend against war profiteering, the Continental Congress created price controls for chocolate and cocoa. The need for chocolate was so great that exporting chocolate from Massachusetts became forbidden since chocolate was “for the supply of the army.” Needless to say, a cup of hot cocoa was much more than a simple treat to these soldiers.

However, chocolate didn’t become an official military ration until World War II when, in 1937, Captain Paul Logan of the US Army Quartermaster Corps approached Hershey Chocolate company with plans of a rather unusual chocolate bar. Captain Logan wanted a bar that weighed about four ounces, was able to withstand high temperatures, was high in calories, and tasted just a little better than a boiled potato.

Sam Hinkle, the head chemist at Hershey readily went to work, creating the Field Ration D bar, or the D ration bar. Made from chocolate, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa fat, and oat flour, these bars were dense, had a higher melting point, and apparently tasted terrible. This was just what Captain Logan wanted; otherwise, he argued, soldiers would have eaten the chocolate without saving it for emergencies.

Even though soldiers called the D ration bar “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” due to its poor taste and effect on one’s digestive system, it was highly profitable. Hershey, which was at the time struggling with the effects of the Depression, had its sales leap from $34 million to $55 million in the span of a few years because of the D ration production.  The company began churning out 700,000 D ration bars a week, which required the factory to run three shifts a day, seven days a week - something never done before.

But making these dense, compact bars was no easy feat for Hershey’s employees. Since the bars were made with oat flour and not a lot of sugar, the chocolate did not flow easily into the molds but rather had to be kneaded and pressed into them. Then, there was the problem of getting the bars out. The molds were long and narrow and the thick chocolate never seemed to cool just right, making it almost impossible to remove. Even so, Hershey still managed to make around three million ration bars, which were ironically more often than not given away to refugees or thrown out rather than eaten.

Luckily for us in the fine chocolate world, craft and high end chocolate bars are no longer the unappetizing, dense bricks that filled the pockets of soldiers on the battlefield, but instead a smooth, crisp and indulgent treat. So don’t let July pass chocolate-free, grab that chocolate bar (and your miniature American flag), pull out those recipes, and celebrate summery Independence one luscious, chocolatey bite at a time.

Sources:

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/12/17/the-surprisingly-manly-history-of-hot-cocoa/

http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume9/jan11/featurearticle.cfm

http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26&Rurl=%2fresources%2fsearch results.aspx%3fType%3dBrowseEssay

http://www.americainwwii.com/articles/chocolate-the-wars-secret-weapon/

   

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