Chocolate is a sweet treat that sometimes gets a bad rap, but eaten in moderation, it can be heart healthy. Your best bet is dark chocolate; a few bites a day is plenty.
- Chocolate comes from cacao beans, the seeds of a fruiting tree, the cacao tree. The Latin name for the tree is Theobroma Cacao, which means ‘food of the gods.’
- Over 70 percent of the world’s chocolate supply comes from West Africa. Most of the trees grow on small family farms.
- Cacao trees are very fragile. Farmers lose up to 30 percent of their trees every year. This is one of the reasons that chocolate can be expensive.
- Worldwide, 40 to 50 million people depend on cacao beans for their living.
- Chocolate originally came from Mesoamerica at least 3,000 years ago. It was not sweetened but was enjoyed as a bitter drink, probably similar to black coffee. The fruit from the cacao tree was used to make an alcoholic drink.
- The cacao bean was so valuable to Mesoamericans that they used it as money. The Aztecs believed cacao beans had magical properties. They used the beans in religious rituals, including sacrifices.
- Spanish explorers discovered chocolate and introduced it to Europe. Europeans didn’t like the bitter drink until they added sugar or honey to it. Even then, only the wealthy could afford it.
- Chocolate became more popular with the invention of the steam engine, which made it easier to transport foods from place to place. Benjamin Franklin sold cocoa in his printing shop. During the Revolutionary War, cocoa was so valued that Revolutionary War soldiers were sometimes paid with it instead of money.
- In 1847, Joseph Fry discovered a method for making chocolate paste and the modern chocolate bar was born.
- Mesoamerica: an ancient name for Mexico and other parts of Central America.
- Bitter: unpleasant
Questions and Answers
Question: What is the difference between cacao, cocoa, and chocolate?
Answer: Cacao usually means the bean and tree; cocoa is a powder made from the cacao bean; chocolate refers to the soft sweet we usually enjoy.
Watch a cacao bean farmer taste chocolate for the first time.