Did you know that chocolate is made from the seeds or ‘beans’ found in the fruit of the cacao tree? As far back as 1500 BC, the people of ancient Central and South America, where cacao trees are originally from, were using cacao beans to make a chocolate beverage. In the 1500’s Spanish explorers brought chocolate from the Americas back to Europe. They added sugar or honey to the drink, and it soon became extremely popular. Chocolate was consumed only as a drink until 1847, when the first solid chocolate bar was created. Milk chocolate was created in 1875. Today more than 5 million tons of cacao beans are produced to keep up with the world’s craving for chocolate.
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The scientific name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao. ‘Theobroma’ comes from the Greek meaning “food for the gods”.
The word ‘chocolate’ comes from the Nahuatl or Aztec word “xocolatl”.
Cacao beans were precious enough to be used as currency as well in ancient Mesoamerican cultures. They also were used in ceremonies.
Cacao trees can grow in areas within what is sometimes called the ‘cocoa belt’ which is 20 degrees north or south of the equator.
A cacao tree bears about 20-30 pods. Each pod holds about 20-40 beans.
It takes about 100 cacao beans to make a pound of chocolate.
The pulp of a cacao fruit is edible.
Dark chocolate has 50-100% cacao by weight. Milk chocolate is made with 25-55% milk powder, and white chocolate has cocoa butter, but no cocoa liquor.
Cacao plantations were established around the world to supply the craze for chocolate. This in turn created a demand for slaves to cultivate, harvest, and process the cacao beans. Issues with slavery, child labor, and fair trade still exists today in the chocolate manufacturing industry.
Coenraad van Houten created a process to reduce the bitterness of chocolate. In 1828, he also devised a process to remove cacao butter from chocolate liquor to make a powdered form of chocolate. This was known as ‘Dutch cocoa’.
Joseph Fry created the first chocolate bar in 1847.
Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle brought introduced milk chocolate to the mass market in 1876.
Solid chocolate was brittle and hard to chew. In 1876, Rudolf Lindt created a process called ‘conching’, which aerated the chocolate and gave it a smoother consistency.
Dogs are allergic to the theobromine found in chocolate.
Chocolate was part of army rations during the Revolutionary War and World Wars.