By Robin Waldman
In June 1941, W. G. Campbell launched a sweeping investigation. As the Commissioner of Food and Drugs for what is now known as the Food and Drug Administration, he commanded all his Chief of Districts to determine, once and for all, the composition of . . . chocolate milk.
In a letter explaining the severity of the confusion, he explained that most “chocolate milk” was mixed at dairies, but some used milk and some used skimmed milk; some included sugar while others utilized one or more syrups; and some relied on chocolate while other dairies utilized cocoa powder or cocoa butter. Further, many soft drink manufacturers also created a product they called “chocolate milk” for retail sale or for service at soda fountains, and their product was entirely different, being based in most instances on dried skimmed milk reconstituted in water and heated in bottles rather than pasteurized.
With so much deviation from one product to the next, it was impossible to determine proper serving sizes, nutritional content, or labeling requirements. Campbell wrote:
For the present, we desire each Station to make a limited investigation in its station headquarters or nearby, dealing primarily with the chocolate-flavored products distributed by dairies where the starting product is milk or skim milk….We are particularly interested in the milk ingredient,– is it whole milk or skimmed milk; is it butter fat adjusted, and if so, how and to what fat content; what does the manufacturer call whole milk; is the milk pasteurized or the finished product; is any preservative used at any stage of preparation….The various ingredients (cacao products, flavors, sweetening agents, emulsifiers) other than milk should be carefully looked over, described, and their labeling reported.
What follow in the records are reports from across the country describing in detail the preparation of milk and milk products. The reports are fascinating, and shed light on the history of food politics, legislation, and cultural preferences. Milk, for example, was standardized as whole milk — that is, with no fat removed. Most products were made with whole milk and skimmed milk was something to be especially noted. Percentages of fat removed varied by dairy according to the tastes of local diet markets, but most people drank whole milk. This affected the chocolate composition of chocolate milk: where manufacturers could not obtain real chocolate, they substituted cocoa butter. Its high fat content didn’t yield a smooth blend with whole milk, so coca butter-based chocolate milk had to be made with skimmed milk. Conversely, where a dairy’s milk was too thin and real chocolate couldn’t be successfully blended, reports note a variety of emulsifiers included in ingredient lists. In earlier reports, tapioca was popularly used. As World War II affected food rationing, later reports show Irish moss (the source of carrageenan) used as a thickening agent in place of the unavailable tapioca. Vanillin replaced vanilla, and artificial flavors appeared more frequently.
Although no final report is included in the records, it’s clear that there was no single standard for a chocolate milk product, and that as the War affected rationing, the base commonalities of the drink dissolved even farther.
Do you drink chocolate milk? Do you know what’s in it? And did you ever think about how many of today’s unpronounceable food ingredients may have had their origins in the resourceful recipe-making of World War II-era rationing?
For more information about this, see the series: “Records Relating to the Standardization of Chocolate Milk, 1941-1942” (NAID 6233903). Federal Security Agency. Food and Drug Administration. Record Group 88: Records of the Food and Drug Administration.
And, for further information about the standardization of ingredients in food, see: Record Group 88: Records of the Food and Drug Administration.