Pharmacy Facts: Is Chocolate Syrup Medicinal?

Publication
Article
Pharmacy TimesOctober 2023
Volume 89
Issue 10

With Halloween just around the corner, now is the perfect time to discuss how medicine was, and still can be, sweet.

Question

Is chocolate syrup medicinal?

Image credit: PHTM- Retail-October 2023 Issue

Image credit: PHTM- Retail-October 2023 Issue

Answer

Chocolate syrup is not medicinal unto itself, but it was created as a medium to deliver bad-tasting medicines.

With Halloween just around the corner, now is the perfect time to discuss how medicine was, and still can be, sweet. For more than a century, pharmacists have used flavor science to make medicine taste good, according to a story published in Smithsonian Magazine.1 Cherry syrup, bubblegum syrup (in amoxicillin), and chocolate syrup got the job done .1

“Few substances are so eagerly taken by children…and fewer still are better than [chocolate] for masking the taste of bitter or nauseous medicinal substances,”said the author of The Pharmaceutical Era, an 1899 book that discusses pharmaceutical agents used at that time.1

The birth of modern chocolate syrup likely began with the advent of cocoa powder in 1828. Cocoa powder is a less bitter and a lower-fat derivative of the cocoa bean, and it can easily dissolve in water.1

This original chocolate syrup was not comparable to what’s sold today, given that it still retained some bitterness and was less viscous. However, by the second half of the 19th century, it was pharmacists who began to combine the cocoa and water mixture with sugar, using a sweet 8:1 ratio of sugar to cocoa.1

Chocolate had become increasingly popular in the Americas and Europe by the 18th century. Cocoa beans were ground and combined with a liquid and a sweetener in a hot chocolate-like beverage. Even then, cocoa was used medicinally.1

Prior to the 20th century, as mass-produced prescription pills were starting to take shape, most medicines were still being administered in liquid or powder formulations. But early medications were always very bitter, leading druggists to mix the liquid medication with the sweet chocolate syrup or combine the 2 in a larger amount of water, tea, or alcohol.1 During this time, most pharmacist publications made mention of chocolate syrup and most drugstores had a soda shop.1

At the turn of the 20th century, people began to consider chocolate syrup a confection rather than a medicine. This happened because of events such as the 1906 passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which increased governmental regulation of patented medicines—another name for OTC medications, which, at the time, were not scientifically proven—and because other types o f chocolate were becoming increasingly popular as a sweet treat, often in the form of chocolate bars.1

But other sweet medicines, like the chalky bubblegum flavor of amoxicillin, have since hit the pharmacy shelves. Beecham Laboratories, now GSK, was the first company to develop the amoxicillin formulation.2

Bitter-tasting medications were historically assumed to be more effective, but this ideology was replaced in Western culture starting in the 20th century. The new approach to medicine instead look ed at the active ingredients in the medicine.2

Thus, more companies began to make medicines that tasted better, especially for children, which was thought to reduce the stress of being sick, while also reducing the stress of the parent and doctor who needed to give the child the medicine . An infamous example of this was the release of St. Joseph Aspirin for Children in 1947.2

Because the medicine was formulated to taste delicious, however, rates of aspirin poisoning in children rose dramatically.2

References

  1. Wei-Haas M. The unlikely medical history of chocolate syrup. Smithsonian Magazine. September 6, 2017. Accessed August 22, 2023. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/unlikely-medicalhistory-chocolate-syrup-180964779/
  2. Beck J. A search for the flavor of a beloved childhood medicine.The Atlantic. July 18, 2017. Accessed August 22, 2023. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/07/the-tastiest-medicine/533937
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