Switzerland Is the Last Place on Earth Where You’d Grow Cocoa. So Why Do the Swiss Eat So Much…

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 11 2012 5:25 PM

Why Do the Swiss Eat So Much Chocolate?

And does it help them win Nobel Prizes?

Chocolate.
Switzerland consumes the most chocolate and ranks second behind Sweden in laureates per capita

Photo by Pederk/iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

A new study in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that a country's chocolate consumption correlates strongly with the number of Nobel Prizes its citizens win. According to the author’s calculations, Switzerland consumes the most chocolate and ranks second behind Sweden in laureates per capita. (The author accuses the Sweden-based Nobel committee of favoritism.) Switzerland doesn’t have the climate to grow cocoa. How did it become known for chocolate?

Because the great chocolate innovators were Swiss. Earlier this year, the Explainer answered the question, “How did Detroit become Motor City?” In short, although some attribute Motown’s dominance to its vast natural resources, its role in manufacturing probably had more to do with the historical accident that a handful of important industrialists worked there. Henry Ford set up shop in Detroit, as did Ransom Olds and other automotive visionaries. Their companies behaved like today’s dot-coms, creating cross-pollination by sharing employees and ideas. The same process explains how the Swiss came to dominate the chocolate world through a century of remarkable innovation. In 1819, Francois-Louis Cailler developed a recipe to turn gritty cocoa beans into a solid, smooth chocolate bar. Rudolph Lindt eventually perfected the smoothing process by adding cocoa butter with a machine he called the conche. In 1830, his countryman Charles-Amédée Kohler added hazelnuts to chocolate. Jean Tobler formulated the Toblerone bar in the late 1860s. Perhaps the greatest innovation came in 1875, when Daniel Peter figured out how to combine cocoa powder with local milk to create milk chocolate, which became an instant sensation. (The Swiss can’t take credit for cocoa powder, which was developed by Dutch chemist Coenraad J. van Houten in 1828.) Eventually, Kohler, Peter, and food magnate Henri Nestlé joined forces to create the Swiss Chocolate Society, which eventually became the Nestlé company. Today, Swiss consumers eat more than 23 pounds of the country’s most famous product per year.

There’s another factor to Switzerland’s high chocolate consumption: wealth. (Which may also explain the correlation with Nobel prizes.) Few cocoa-producing countries are big chocolate consumers, because chocolate is a luxury. Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Ghana, and Nigeria, all of which have per capita GDPs well below the global average, lead the world in cocoa production. By contrast, wealthy Western Europe constitutes 6 percent of the world’s population, but eats 45 percent of its chocolate.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Brian Palmer is Slate's chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.