Coenraad Johannes van Houten

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Coenraad Johannes van Houten
Portrait of Coenraad Johannes van Houten
Born(1801-03-15)15 March 1801
Died27 May 1887(1887-05-27) (aged 86)
Weesp, Netherlands

Coenraad Johannes van Houten (15 March 1801 – 27 May 1887) was a Dutch chemist and chocolate maker known for the treatment of cocoa mass with alkaline salts to remove the bitter taste and make cocoa solids more water-soluble; the resulting product is still called "Dutch process chocolate". He is also credited with introducing a method for pressing the fat (cocoa butter) from roasted cocoa beans, though this was in fact his father, Casparus van Houten's invention.[1]

Father and son van Houten[edit]

Coenraad Johannes van Houten was the son of Casparus van Houten (1770–1858) and Arnoldina Koster. His father opened a chocolate factory in Amsterdam in 1815, with a mill turned by laborers. At that time, cocoa beans were ground into a fine mass, which could then be mixed with milk to create a chocolate drink or, with addition of sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, made into cookies.

Cocoa press[edit]

In 1828, Casparus van Houten Sr. (and not his son, who is usually credited)[1] patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cocoa beans. The center of the bean, known as the "nib", contains an average of 54% of cocoa butter, which is a natural fat. Van Houten's machine – a hydraulic press – reduced the cocoa butter content by nearly half. This created a "cake" that could be pulverized into cocoa powder, which was to become the basis of all chocolate products.

The introduction of cocoa powder is not only made creating chocolate drinks much easier, but also made it possible to combine the powder with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter to create a solid, already closely resembling today's eating chocolate.

In 1838, the patent expired, enabling others to produce cocoa powder and build on Van Houten's success, experimenting to make new chocolate products. In 1847, English chocolate maker J. S. Fry & Sons produced arguably the first chocolate bar. Later developments were in Switzerland, where Daniel Peter introduced milk chocolate in 1875 and Rodolphe Lindt made chocolate more blendable by the process of conching in 1879.

Dutch process chocolate[edit]

Dutch process cocoa (left) compared to natural cocoa (right)

Coenraad Van Houten introduced a further improvement by treating the powder with alkaline salts (potassium or sodium carbonates) so that the powder would mix more easily with water. Today, this process is known as "Dutching". The final product, Dutch chocolate, has a dark color and a mild taste.[2]

Later career[edit]

In 1835, Coenraad Johannes van Houten married Hermina van Houten (unrelated) from Groningen. In 1850, he moved his production from a windmill in Leiden to a steam factory in Weesp. By that time he was exporting chocolate to England, France, and Germany. In 1866, John Cadbury traveled to Weesp to buy a Van Houten press, but did not use it in his manufacturing until 1875.

Coenraad's son Casparus Johannes (1844–1901), employed since 1865, had a gift for marketing and contributed greatly to the growth of the company. Advertisements for Van Houten could be found on trams throughout Europe and the United States. As early as 1899, Van Houten produced a commercial film that depicted a sleepy clerk who recovers miraculously after eating some chocolate.[3] The factory was a boost for the town of Weesp, whose population doubled in the second half of the 19th century. Casparus Jr. had himself built a 99-room Jugendstil villa in Weesp, by the renowned architect Abraham Salm (1857–1915).[4] Work was started in 1897 but not completed until 1901, the year he died.[5]

The Van Houten company was sold in 1962 to W.R. Grace, and the factories in Weesp closed in 1971. The Van Houten brand name, still in use, has been transferred several times since, in 1990 from the German chocolate manufacturer Jacobs Suchard to Philip Morris. It subsequently was owned by the Stollwerck chocolate manufacturing company and since 2002 by Barry Callebaut.[6]

The legacy of Dutch process cocoa[edit]

Dutch process cocoa is generally acknowledged as superior to cocoa not processed in this way.[7] The combination of the inventions by father and son van Houten led to the nineteenth-century mass production and consumption of chocolate, or, as some call it, the "democratization" of chocolate.[8]

Popular culture[edit]

"Drink Van Houten's Cocoa!" wrote Vladimir Mayakovsky in his poem, A Cloud in Trousers, referencing an urban legend about a publicity trick by Van Houten company: paying a condemned man to shout their slogan directly before being hanged. This infamous citation is the title of Ornela Vorpsi's book from 2010.[9]

A Van Houten's Cocoa shop can be seen during the opening battle sequence of Neil Jordan's 1996 film Michael Collins.


  1. ^ a b "Onderzoekers in actie: Peter van Dam De geschiedenis van de firma Van Houten Cacao" (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
  2. ^ "Coenraad Johannes van Houten". Theobroma Cacao. Archived from the original on 31 December 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  3. ^ "Cacao: Opwekkend!". Westfries Museum. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  4. ^ "1315.BT: Archief van G.B. Salm en A. Salm GBzn.; bouwtekeningen". Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchief. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  5. ^ "Villa Casparus". 't Gooi. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  6. ^ Van Houten drinks website
  7. ^ Liddell, Caroline; Robin Weir (1996). Frozen Desserts: The Definitive Guide to Making Ice Creams, Ices, Sorbets, Gelati, and Other Frozen Delights. Macmillan. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-312-14343-5.
  8. ^ Courtwright, David T. (2002). Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. Harvard UP. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-674-01003-1.
  9. ^ "Biography: Vorpsi, Ornela". Berliner Künstlerprogramm. Archived from the original on 22 February 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2018.

External links[edit]

Media related to Coenraad Johannes van Houten at Wikimedia Commons