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How a physician invented chocolate milk in Jamaica and brought it to Europe

Chocolate milk is one of those delicious treats that few can resist, no matter their age.

In A Christmas Story, young Ralphie spends an inordinate amount of energy on consuming Ovaltine, a brand of chocolate milk mix, in order to get a decoder ring that ends up being just another advertisement for the beverage.

“Be sure to Drink Your Ovaltine” it says, much to the young man’s disappointment.

Others may be familiar with the smiling Nesquik Bunny that shows up in ads from time to time, talking about chocolate milk.

But what most people don’t know is the origin story of chocolate milk, and how it became such a staple.

Ovaltine advertisement in a medical journal, 1909
Ovaltine advertisement in a medical journal, 1909

In 1660, Hans Sloane was born in Ireland. He would grow up fascinated with the natural world, and as such made a practice of studying both botany and medical sciences.

His genuine interest in medicine would land him an M.D. at the University of Orange-Nassau in France. At the age of 25, he was elected to the Royal Society, which hails as the oldest scientific institution in the world.

His work in botany and medical work did not go unnoticed and, in 1687, he was appointed as a physician to the Duke of Albemarle in Jamaica.

Sir Hans Sloane
Sir Hans Sloane

It would be his time spent in Jamaica that would bring about the revolutionary discovery of chocolate milk.

He discovered that native Jamaicans were consuming a mixture of chocolate and water, but, upon trying the beverage, Sloane was less than pleased by its taste. He found the concoction to be … nauseating.

Instead of drinking the chocolate with water, he decided that he could improve the formula by making some simple changes. First, he would use milk as a substitute for water. After adding sugar to the beverage, he found it tasted much, much better.

Sloane believed not only that the beverage tasted good but it was healthy.

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In addition to the calcium found in milk, chocolate milk also contains the antioxidants that are naturally found in cocoa. (Of course, people didn’t know about these particular compounds in Sloane’s lifetime.)

His position of physician primed him to be able to bring the drink mixture back to Europe and introduce it to the continent.

His mixture would end up in the apothecary stores and his promotion of the beverage would lead to widespread demand.

Sloane’s voyage to Jamaica, 1725
Sloane’s voyage to Jamaica, 1725

While many would be tempted to credit Sir Hans Sloane with the creation of chocolate milk, the truth is that he most likely was not the first man to combine chocolate and milk.

As an article in the Smithsonian points out, chocolate had been around for thousands of years and the Europeans were aware of its existence in the 1500s.

The chances of Sir Hans Sloan being the first person to think to combine milk and chocolate are fairly low. In fact, it’s possible that the Jamaicans themselves were the ones to create such a mixture.

Milk Cocoa Chocolate
Milk Cocoa Chocolate

It seems the history of chocolate milk can be just as murky as the liquid itself.

As with most things in history, however, just because others may have been the first to invent chocolate milk doesn’t mean that Sir Hans Sloane shouldn’t get the credit for his work.

His creation of the product and introducing it to the European markets would lead to the popularization of the beverage.

Sloane, 1736
Sloane, 1736

Regardless of whether he was the original inventor of chocolate milk or not (a subject which historians will argue about endlessly), Sir Hans Sloane does deserve the credit of bringing it to Europe.

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This popularity would only grow and soon, chocolate milk would become a favorite everywhere.

Andrew Pourciaux is a novelist hailing from sunny Sarasota, Florida, where he spends the majority of his time writing and podcasting.

Andrew Pourciaux

Andrew Pourciaux is a novelist hailing from sunny Sarasota, Florida, where he spends the majority of his time writing and podcasting.