It’s been six and a half years since I moved to Washington, DC from my native Britain. My life here is great: The people are lovely, the weather isn’t quite so rainy, and the food is superb. Well, mostly superb. There is one significant area, and perhaps only one, where British food is superior to American food: chocolate.
It’s not so much that American chocolate is bad, although some of it is—Hershey’s bars are truly awful—but some of it is serviceable. I’ll eat a Crunch bar. I’ve enjoyed a Butterfinger for precisely one minute before regretting getting all that sugar stuck in my teeth. And the posher stuff can also be pretty good—that Chocolove shit they sell at Whole Foods is tasty.
But nothing—not even America’s fanciest bean-to-bar artisan truffles made with matcha and cardamom and Himalayan salt—can compare to the best of British chocolate. Specifically, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is (or, at least, was—more on that later) the perfect chocolate. It is in a class all its own. (A lot of chocolate snobs, including in the UK, look down on Cadbury for having too much milk and sugar and not enough cocoa. We’re only supposed to enjoy dark chocolate, because it’s not posh to enjoy things that actually taste nice. Well, fuck those fancy twats: Cadbury is the best.)
But wait, you say—Libby, surely you’ve seen that they sell Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in the US too? Yes, there is a version of Cadbury Dairy Milk sold in the US, produced by Hershey’s, but it isn’t the same thing at all. In fact, it makes a sick mockery of the good name Cadbury. It’s powdery, almost dry in the mouth; it forms a gross, sort-of-paste on the tongue. The aftertaste is bad, almost sour, matching the regret of shoving candy in your mouth rather than assuaging it with the soft richness of chocolatey goodness. As one British specialty store owner told the Guardian in 2009, “American chocolate is so sweet that it tastes like doggie chocs.” Quite! The proper British Cadbury, meanwhile, is smooth, sweet, and addictive.
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You can still find the good British Cadbury in the US at specialty shops and even some larger chains. But in 2015, Hershey’s felt so threatened by the availability of an actually good version of their shite choc that they sued two importers of British Cadbury, Posh Nosh and Let’s Buy British (LBB). Hershey’s argued that those companies were “importing confectionery products from the UK that were not intended for sale in the United States and infringe on the Hershey Company’s brand trademark rights and trade dress.” As a result, both Posh Nosh and LBB stopped importing Cadbury.
And yet smaller importers continue to carry the Good Cadbury, partly because Hershey’s kind of backed down—they claimed they never intended to stop all sales of British Cadbury in the U.S., and said it was “not realistic from a resources perspective to monitor every single retailer,” but perhaps they also regretted the negative publicity surrounding the lawsuit. So, rejoice and move on, right?
No. I remain mad at Hershey and at Cadbury’s corporate parents for colluding to deprive Americans of the good shit. It is clearly within the reach of science and commerce to produce the superior Cadbury in the U.S.; there is no ingredient cheaply available in the UK that isn’t available in the US that makes our Cadbury so much better. They don’t squeeze uptightness and a widespread acceptance of socialized medicine into each bar. In fact, Cadbury UK ships the same chocolate base over to the U.S., which is then processed differently, according to a 2007 New York Times article:
Tony Bilsborough, a spokesman for Cadbury-Schweppes in Britain, said his company ships its specially formulated chocolate crumb — a mash of dried milk and chocolate to which cocoa butter will be added later — to Hershey, Pa. What happens next accounts for the differences.
“I imagine it’s down to the final processing and the blending,” he said. After consulting with chocolate manufacturers in each country, Cadbury tries to replicate the taste people grew up with, he said. In the United States, that means a bar that is more akin to a Hershey bar, which to many British palates tastes sour.
A devastating admission of guilt from Cadbury there—they are dumbing down your chocolate.
Sadly, the poison of big corporate ownership is killing even the real Dairy Milk, too. Since the American food giant Kraft took over Cadbury in 2010 (it’s now under Mondelez International, which was spun off from Kraft in 2012), complaints have bubbled up that the new owners are meddling with the recipe for their signature chocolate offering. Every few months, a British tabloid writes a version of this same story, as recently as March: Choco fans are very cross at Cadbury for bollocking up their Dairy Milk, which used to be absolutely legendary but is now rubbish. Cadbury denies it has monkeyed with the original Dairy Milk recipe, but it has owned up to some changes. Creme Eggs are no longer made with Dairy Milk, but a different, arguably substandard recipe. They removed the signature corners from bars of Dairy Milk, rounding the chunks out, and in the process slightly shrinking the size of the bars.
I must say, I have to lend the conspiracy theorists some credence—having busted out a bar of pure Dairy Milk from my stash for the first time in months for my taste test, I do think it tastes a little less magical than it used to. And the corporate takeover of Cadbury has had much more serious implications, too—factories have closed, and Mondelez dropped the brand’s commitment to Fairtrade ingredients. It’s a significant departure from the brand’s roots: Cadbury was founded in the 19th century by Quakers, who built housing for their workers to “alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped, living conditions.”
At least for now, though, Cadbury is still far better than its American counterpart. So why would the overpaid corporate pigs of the processed food industry work so hard to prevent hardworking Americans from tasting truly delicious chocolate? My only theory: This is a conspiracy to prevent Americans from waking up and realizing that much of their mass-produced food actually sucks and, more broadly, that capitalism does not provide you with better choices or adequate treats at all. Your Oreos are too sweet and your Chips Ahoy are too dry; the offerings at your local CVS are no good. You have been lied to. These candies do not suffice as guilty pleasures, and you did not choose them freely. You chose them under the duress of false consciousness. Perhaps Mondelez realizes that the sweet taste of Proper Cadbury would awaken in American consumers the knowledge that capitalism doesn’t provide everyone those ideals of choice and excellence, but merely a veneer of freedom and indulgence. Hershey’s sued the major importers of British Cadbury not just because it wanted to continue selling substandard chocolate to the masses, but because it wants to maintain the lie that Americans are empowered by individualistic capitalism to choose whatever chocolate they want, when in fact it crushes their taste buds to the point that they cannot even imagine a better, sweeter world.
Wake up, sheeple.