“N” for New Habits: New Goods from the New World. Nadia Fernández de Pinedo, Associate Professor at the Department of Economic Studies, Universidad Autonóma, Madrid

Creoles take a lot of chocolate and atole but much better than the one made by the Indians.” (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, chap. VII)

De español y negra, mulata, Casta painting, Andrés de Islas, 1774, oil on canvas, 75 x 54 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, Inv. 1980/03/04
De español y negra, mulata, Casta painting, Anonym, Mexico, c. 1775-1800, oil on copper, 36 x 48 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, Inv. 00053

Trading networks among Europe, Asia and America modified the habits of Europeans. Many patterns of consumption were the result of centuries of relations between East and West. The colonizers of territories determined the distribution of certain products and exotic luxuries were selectively adopt, from their indigenous origins to their worldwide consumption. Further psychoactive substances in general such as tobacco, opium, tea, coffee and cocoa were socially and economically important because early on, states discovered the significant value of these products in terms of fiscal revenue and establishing monopolies. At least up to eighteenth-century, foodstuff such as cocoa and sugar can be consider as semi-luxury goods, since they might have been transformed from luxury to common goods during these years, particularly in urban environments.

La Feria de Madrid, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), 1779, oil on canvas, 258 x 218 cm. Madrid, Museo del Prado, P00779

Being part of an empire and having colonial power had a clear influence on the changes on dietary changes and the standardization of the intake of certain products. From the Aztecs and Mayas to the elites of Europe, cocoa spread particularly in Spain in the form of chocolate accompanying breakfast and afternoon gatherings. Even if cocoa has fewer stimulating effects than coffee or tea, it has a strong nutritional profile, which made it very appealing to the whole Catholic world. As liquids did not break the fast, chocolate substituted for food during Lent. However, cocoa was consumed as a condiment in dishes, but particularly as a drink. The inhabitants of Madrid took hot chocolate thick and spiced with cinnamon but a great variety of recipes with spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon and pepper can be traced. Sugar was especially used to sweeten cocoa a reason why sugar was in great demand -for every pound of cocoa it was added at least 0.477 pounds of sugar. In addition, it was used as a condiment in the manufacture of rum and beer, as an adulterant of snuff, as well as in confectionery industry etc. in a broad range of the existing qualities and types (sugar candy, sugar crust, pink sugar, rock sugar, sugar foam, sugar loaf…).

Those colonial foodstuffs –cocoa and sugar- also played an important role as kinship and gift, besides giving gifts of food was a standard practice. Throughout the eighteenth-century, many of these overseas products played a central role as social markers, especially in urban populations not only in Europe but also in America.

Bodegón con servicio de chocolate, Luis Egidio Meléndez, 1770, oil on canvas, 50 x 37 cm. Madrid, Museo del Prado, P1770

Trade favored not only the transmission of new staples but also new forms of crockery and table manners. If America furnished gourds and pumpkins, Asia provided a complete set of dishes. The majority of the products noted in Spain as coming from the East were linked to the kitchen-household. The attraction of Asian porcelain not only gave a boost to imports but, as Dobado-Gonzalez notes, also fuelled imitation. The products of Chinese origin seem to be utilitarian items for domestic use for the consumption of chocolate and tea or for storage, display, or drinking. Paintings undoubtedly reflect the social reshaping of this period.


Baghdiantz McCabe, Ina. 2015. A History of Global Consumption : 1500-1800. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge.

Buc’hoz, Pierre-Joseph. 1812. Traité Usuel du Chocolat. Paris: Chez Chambon.

Dobado-González, Rafael. 2014. ‘La globalización hispana del comercio y el arte en la Edad Moderna’. Estudios de Economía Aplicada, 32 (1): 13–42.

Fernández-de-Pinedo, Nadia. 2003. ‘Un primer avance de investigación: el azúcar ultramarino y su consumo en España en la primera mitad del siglo XIX’. Ibero-Americana Pragensia Supplementum, 11: 77–90.

McNeil, Cameron L. 2006. Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Sherratt, Andrew. 2007. ‘Alcohol and Its Alternatives. Symbol and Substances in Pre-Industrial Cultures’, Consuming Habits: Global and Historical Perspectives on How Cultures Define Drugs, 2nd ed, 11–45. Milton Park [etc.]: Routledge.

Yun-Casalilla, Bartolomé and Aram, Bethany. 2014. Global Goods and the Spanish Empire, 1492-1824. London: Palgrave McMillan.


Cite this blog post
Corinne Thepaut-Cabasset (2017, May 15). “N” for New Habits: New Goods from the New World. Nadia Fernández de Pinedo, Associate Professor at the Department of Economic Studies, Universidad Autonóma, Madrid. DRESSING THE NEW WORLD. Retrieved May 27, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/nwqm

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