Why do we eat chocolate easter eggs?

Posted by Shari Aubrey on

Are you old enough to remember decorating eggs for Easter as a child - as in the chicken variety? Which involved the precarious act of 'blowing' them to remove the yolk and white...

Did you know you were participating in ancient rituals; or more the point, did you ever wonder why an egg?

We tend to think of Easter eggs being chocolate, however, the Christian tradition of gifting eggs at Easter - to symbolise resurrection - dates back at least to the 13th Century, and some argue to the early Christians - well before chocolate Easter eggs.

But eggs go far beyond the Christian tradition - they've have been used to symbolise the rebirth of the natural world (Spring) across many cultures and many different times. In one form or another the Pagans were doing it, the Sumerians, Romans, Babylonians, Persians, Chinese, Ancient Egyptians and many more. Human's appear to love eggs as a symbol of rebirth.

Which is all fine and good - but how did we go from decorating and gifting real eggs to chocolate Easter eggs?

 
The first chocolate Easter eggs

The first recorded chocolate egg, not surprisingly, came from Versailles and the decadent French court of Louis XIV.

He was closely followed by the creative Seignora Giambone from Turin, Italy (also the chocolate capital of Italy) who filled hollow chicken eggs with a molten chocolate drink to serve to her guests. Delicious, yes. Exotic, definitely. But in both instances - these were very expensive and very exclusive treats available only to the aristocracy. 

Easter changed forever in 1873

Not much happened on the Easter egg front for the next 150 years; rich people were occasionally dabbling with the idea in the privacy of their lavish homes, but that was it.  

However, Easter changed forever in 1873 when the first chocolate Easter egg hit the market thanks to Fry’s & Son's; the same company also responsible for the first moulded chocolate bar - and the controversial Fry's Turkish Delight, which tp this day you either love or hate.

It's hard to imagine what a stir this first Easter egg would have caused - but put yourself in the shoes of an average worker in 1873 and you may understand how exciting the first Easter eggs were. 

Chocolate was exotic. Both cocoa and sugar - the two main ingredients of chocolate - were relatively new to Europe, having been discovered in the 'New World' and were both rare and vastly expensive - the domain of the privileged and only starting to become accessible to the average person.

By 1873 the cost of chocolate had dropped to a level that 'normal folk' could buy very occasionally as a treat but it was still an expensive treat - and realistically most people would never have had the opportunity, or funds, to have tried chocolate.

Also, moulded chocolate bars - as opposed to chocolate as a drink - were still a new phenomena. Thanks to industrialisation, advances in science and a little vision, Fry's & Son's introduced the first chocolate bars a just few decades earlier. But, even in 1873, the chocolate bar was exciting and elusive to most - so imagine how exotic the idea of a hollow chocolate egg was - it took chocolate excitement to a whole new level, capturing the imagination of the masses. 

Rival company Cadbury certainly thought so. John Cadbury, ever the astute business man, saw the potential of the Easter egg and was quickly producing his own - and thanks to an extensive marketing campaign and clever packaging (...somethings never change!) - the Easter egg was propelled forever into our Easter consciousness.  

 

5 reasons the chocolate Easter egg become so popular 

But why has the chocolate Easter egg endured? The 1800’s were no different to now, where a product may be all the rage for a year or two and then fade into obscurity. What made Easter eggs so popular - why are we still eating them 150 years later?

The short answer – it was a moment in time where five things came together to create Easter egg longevity.

  1. British and other European societies had an established tradition of gifting eggs at Easter, and had been making and decorating them for years – whether real eggs, or in the 19th Century, made from paper mĂąchĂ© and cardboard.

  2. The core ingredients of chocolate - cocoa and sugar – being relatively new and exotic, were imported from the ‘New World’ and were only available in very limited quantities. This made them rare, and therefore very expensive. However, both supply and shipping had improved, and the cost of cocoa and sugar dropped significantly.

  3. The science of chocolate making had progressed, not least in the use of cocoa butter that provides the rigidity required to sustain a hollow egg. (Even to this day, some people say Easter egg chocolate tastes different because of a higher cocoa butter content to hold those hollow shape).

  4. The industrial revolution provided factories, machinery and cheap labour to produce Easter eggs at a commercial level, which again brought costs down. No longer were you reliant on a King’s cooks to produce a handful of Easter eggs in a palace kitchen – chocolate and chocolate eggs were, for the first time, available to the masses.

  5. People love chocolate! And this is what really sealed the deal. Sure, there's tradition and of course economics - but when push comes to shove, the real reason the chocolate egg became an iconic Easter presence is our love of chocolate...and certainly, I’d take a chocolate Easter egg over a paper mĂąchĂ© one any day!

Which brings us to 2023...

From these humble beginnings, chocolate makers all over the world have spent months preparing to make chocolate Easter eggs - in the United States alone, 180 million Easter eggs are now sold every year. Australia comes in as the number one consumer of Easter Eggs spending $651 million dollars on these sweet treats - which averages as $62 per person - on Easter Eggs. Statistics I'm sure Joseph Fry could never have imagined back in 1873 when he launched that first Easter egg.

 

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