A Different Taste Bud in China


If it is not for Mr. Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door policy in 1978, over 1.3 billion people would not have known chocolate. Over 30 years ago, almost no one had ever tasted chocolate in China, though by that time it has been already existed since 1500-400 BC (Coe, 2013). Major chocolate companies like Mars and Hershey has taken this advantage and entered this “chocolate virgin” (Lawrence L, 2010) nation with preparation to accept challenges as well as the hope to make a fortune, which they had. However, while people were hoping this nation will embrace chocolate, the amount of chocolate sold in China only accounts for, nowadays, less than 2% of the global total assumption (Lawrence L, 2011). Chocolate is not the one to blame, neither was the companies’ fault. The real problem is the two strong and powerful roots of China; one is history, and the other its byproduct; culture. Chinese history created its culture which then made who Chinese are, and they are what made China less interested in Chocolate compare with the rest of the world. This essay will discuss first the history factor and then the culture influences, followed by an introduction of the problems exists in chocolate industry in China and possible solutions.

History Factor

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Within the time period that chocolate started to gain recognition and popularity, China had a closed-door policy which completely banned goods made outside of China. The world was a mystery to most of Chinese, the only exceptions would be those who had the opportunities to study or visit abroad. Therefore, China is at least 2 centuries behind compares with western countries in terms of consuming chocolate. While a European kid was enjoying his/her chocolate bar, a child in China was barely able to have a candy made of only sugar. There were days when they had to use very limited amount of tickets issued by the central government to purchase sugar, and that is when sugar was considered a luxury. Nowadays, two generations have experienced the luxury-sugar era, they are 40-years-old, 50-years-old and seniors. These age groups account for more than 20% of the total population (Nation Master, 2013). They are the group of people who are new to sweets like chocolate. During the luxury sugar era, they have developed a certain eating diet and beliefs of health; sweets are bad for you. Chocolate was introduced into China as a sweet, and due to lack of education, people barely know what chocolate really is. As we review the history of chocolate, the Mayan people used to widely use chocolate as medicines for some common diseases like stimulating digestion and the cacao itself is scientifically proofed to have some benefits for us. People lacking of knowledge misunderstand chocolate. Chocolate is innocent, it is the added sugar made it unhealthy. For younger generations, they are more likely to favor and consume more frequent chocolate for they were born with the existence of chocolate. However, most likely parents would raise them with very generous but limited allowance for having chocolate. Chocolate is often given to their children as a reward especially when they were young. In addition, as mentioned before in the introduction section, whichever company entered the market first would easily define what chocolate is to Chinese people. If we were to ask a person between 30 year old to 50 year old what is chocolate, his/her answer would probably be “Dove” which is a chocolate brand created by the Mars company. As one of the companies that opened the market in this nation, it has successfully left its brand image in people’s mind so that people think chocolate is “Dove”. As a 21-year-old Chinese, I would say my favorite and first experience with chocolate was Dove milk chocolate. This has actually brought problem along. They “miss led” this country which had no chocolate culture before about what chocolate really is. Chinese history that go back thousands years has established a certain uniqueness to China. Unlike the Europeans and Americans, for their colonial history, share many similarities whether in terms of languages, diet habits and etc. Everything not Chinese is new to this nation.

Culture Factor

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Food has always been a major aspect of any culture in every country and it is also the reflection of a country. One of the reasons that chocolate is not consumed as many as people thought it would be is because Chinese have developed their strong savory and salty taste bud. In ancient Mayan community, consuming chocolate as drinks with other ingredients added into it was considered a highly social activity, and it also showed chocolate’s social significance because it was common to see chocolate beverage at weddings, banquets and burials. When occasions like those occur, tea would be the substitute. Because tea culture is so overwhelming in China, no other beverage can compete with it. Another beverage that is closely related to chocolate is coffee. Yet the older generations of Chinese is any close to adapt the taste of coffee. On the other hand, younger generations are much more in favor of coffee. However, they would not consume coffee or chocolate drinks frequently. In addition dessert is never included as a course of an everyday meal. Even with dessert severed on special occasions, most likely it is going to be made of ingredients that are considered health, such as rice power, bean, sticky rice and etc. Also, when it comes to food, health is always on top of everything, dessert has been avoided as much as possible. Chinese people emphasize three main meals of a day. There is usually no snack time. From reviewing the history of chocolate, we know it is been called the “food of Gods” and the Aztec people used cacao beans as currency and later as gifts. Contemporarily, chocolate been sent as a gift is still a very common phenomenon around the world, so does in China. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, chocolate was brought into this country as an imported product, with a little effort of packaging, people would assume chocolate is a high-end good. The most popular chocolate to give as present early years was Ferrero in China before other more expensive chocolate manufacture has entered the market. Moreover, chocolate rituals is still in use by the contemporary Mesoamerican by serving chocolate drinks in the festivals to honor cacao god. In addition, they would also provide cacao seed as another way of using chocolate ritually. Using chocolate as a little treat in weddings is very common to represent love and warmness. The biggest sales of chocolate in a year would be during Valentine’s Day. Other than gifts, it is hard to find an excuse for Chinese to purchase chocolate. Since the food culture is so different there, many alternatives are more popular than chocolate for gift giving. Tea, again, would be a perfect example as one of the alternatives.

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Problem and Solution

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After all, China is still a developing country with a less well developed education system. In addition, because the harvesting and production of cacao is centered outside of China, people have less resources of knowing how chocolate is made of and what is involved in its production. Also, sugar as one of the most important product adds into chocolate production, the history of slavery used in sugar production is not widely known or taken seriously enough. Fair trade has not yet made its way into China. No one there would even know about the problems existing in chocolate industry. For example the use of child labor is barely known in this country. What we need to reinforce is the slavery history of cacao harvesting and sugar production, and promote fair trade. Another major issue exists in China is racism and sexism in chocolate commercials and advertisement. It is so common to find a TV commercial with content of a sexy female figure. Most importantly, the bigger problem is that people do not see the sexism and racism. Due to relatively low level of education and knowledge of the significance of these social problems, no one has pointed out or tried to resolve them. We need to reveal this problem and emphasize the importance of protecting human rights.


Thousand years of history of China has made this nation unique in many ways. Completely different lifestyle and eating habit from western countries has left chocolate very little room to develop. Within the years of closed-door police, no imported goods can possibly make its way into China. No one inside of the country knows about them. The open-door policy did has opened up this gate of China, but it has not really opened up people’s mind. They are less willing to try and accept new things. However the reason it is hard for them to accept is because of their strong culture of food and lifestyle. Chocolate will find its revolution in China as time goes by, newer and newer generation will have more understanding of its history and the true value of chocolate, but right now it has not yet come.


Martin, C. D. (2014 ). Mesoamerica and the “food of gods”[PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bZnNSUEVBekRocW8&usp=sharing

Martin, C. D. (2014 ). Slavery, abolition, and force labor[PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bZnNSUEVBekRocW8&usp=sharing

Martin, C. D. (2014). Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisement [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bZnNSUEVBekRocW8&usp=sharing

Jean, J. S. (2013, August 20). Medical and ritualistic uses for chocolate in Mesoamerica. Heritage Daily. Retrieved from

Staum, N. (2013, October 30). The Great Chocolate of China. Insight into China. Retrieved from http://www.idigest.com.cn/en/2013-10/30/content_6417889.htm

Allen, L. L. (2011, July 1). Chocolate Fortunes. China Business Review. Retrieved from http://www.chinabusinessreview.com/chocolate-fortunes/

[Untitled illustration of Dove Milk Chocolate]. Retrieved May 13, 2015

from http://www.epermarket.com/product/SearchList.aspx?keyword=Milk

[Untitled illustration of Dove Milk Chocolate Commercial]. Retrieved May 13, 2015
from http://www.buybuychina.com/chocolate-chinas-new-health-food/

[Untitled illustration of Cacao God]. Retrieved May 13, 2015
from http://creativeroots.org/2013/08/mexican-chocolate-stout-label-design/

[Untitled illustration of Chinese Tea]. Retrieved May 13, 2015
from http://studyinchina.universiablogs.net/2013/08/22/tea-houses-in-wuhan/


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