Why Fidel Castro Was Obsessed with Chocolate Milk
The late Cuban leader's legacy includes a complicated relationship with the dairy treat
Fidel Castro, who died two weeks ago at the age of 90, shaped Cuba in ways historians will be analyzing—and new leaders may be attempting to untangle—for decades to come. But one thing we can be sure he changed indelibly was breakfast. One particular aspect of it, at least. Castro had grandiose, technocratic ideas about food, and one way that bore itself out, according to a recent report by the AP, was in his promotion of a powdered milk and cocoa mixture he called “chocolatin.” “Seven of every 11 grams are whole milk powder, believe me,” Castro averred in 2005, advising Cuban families to feed the mix to their children. “Check it if you're skeptical. Take it to a laboratory and test it. There's also four grams of cocoa, which is very strong, as strong as it is healthy.”
While it’s unclear if anybody did take the powder to a lab to have it examined, it appears to have been a popular dietary recommendation nonetheless. The AP reports that, 11 years on, “it's hard to find a Cuban child who doesn't ask for chocolate-flavored morning milk, itself a legacy of Castro's pledge to give every Cuban under age 7 one liter of milk every day.”
Castro had a complicated relationship with milk and other dairy products. In 1963, two years after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, the CIA, in collaboration with American mobsters, tried to have a poison pill slipped into one of Castro’s chocolate milkshakes. The coup failed, one of hundreds of botched assassination attempts on the Communist dictator.
It might have worked had it been better executed, though, because Castro loved ice cream, as anyone who’s read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s essay “A Personal Portrait of Fidel," may know. In it, Marquez describes Castro as finishing off “a good-sized lunch with 18 scoops of ice cream.” In 1966, in an apparent attempt to best Howard Johnson’s ice cream selection, Castro ordered the creation of Cuba’s own state-run ice cream parlor, Coppelia, which still exists to this day.
Along with ice cream, Castro had dairy ambitions that extended to cheese and animal husbandry. He ordered the creation of a “Cuban Camembert” to match the French’s, but it was not well received by André Voisin, a French biochemist. “Not too bad,” he told Castro after trying it on a visit to the Caribbean island nation in 1964. And Castro also experimented with a breed of Cuban supercow that would produce vast quantities of milk. The breed, a cross between a Zebu and a Holstein, did not live up to the hype.