20 Things You Never Knew About Chocolate

iStock
iStock

Happy National Chocolate Day! In celebration of this most delicious holiday, let’s brush up on our chocolate knowledge.

1. THERE ARE MULTIPLE CELEBRATIONS OF CHOCOLATE EACH YEAR.

Holiday makers are constantly on the hunt for a reason to munch on chocolate, so the calendar offers plenty of excuses to buy a bar. July 7 is also Chocolate Day, a nod to the historical tradition that the day marks when chocolate was first brought to Europe on July 7, 1550, though a number of sources argue that it might have hit the continent’s shores as far back as 1504, thanks to Christopher Columbus. Official day or not, we do know that chocolate first arrived in Europe some time in the 16th century. There's also National Milk Chocolate Day on July 28, International Chocolate Day on September 13, and, of course, National Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds Day on November 7.

2. CHOCOLATE IS ACTUALLY A VEGETABLE—KIND OF.

Milk and dark chocolate come from the cacao bean, which grows on the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), an evergreen from the family Malvaceae (other members of the family include okra and cotton). This makes the most important part of the sweet treat a vegetable.

3. WHITE CHOCOLATE IS NOT CHOCOLATE.

Because it doesn't contain cocoa solids or chocolate liquor, white chocolate isn't chocolate in the strict sense. But it does contain parts of the cacao bean—mainly cocoa butter.

4. THE CACAO BEAN IS NATIVE TO MEXICO AND BOTH CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA.

It’s believed that inhabitants of these areas first started cultivating the bean as far back as 1250 BCE, and perhaps even earlier.

5. HOT CHOCOLATE WAS THE FIRST CHOCOLATE TREAT.

Cacao was brewed in both Mexican and Aztec culture, though the result was nothing like today’s hot chocolate—it was a typically bitter concoction that was often used for ceremonial occasions like weddings.

6. MARIE ANTOINETTE LOVED HOT CHOCOLATE (THE MODERN KIND).

Marie didn’t just love cake, she also loved chocolate, and hot chocolate was frequently served at the Palace of Versailles. It wasn’t just the taste everyone loved—it was also believed that the drink was an aphrodisiac.

7. CACAO WAS ONCE USED AS CURRENCY.

The Aztecs loved and valued the cacao bean so highly that they used it as currency during the height of their civilization.

8. SPANISH FRIARS HELPED SPREAD THE LOVE.

After cacao and chocolate were introduced to Europe, traveling Spanish friars took it to various monasteries, handily spreading it around the continent.

9. A PAIR OF BRITISH CONFECTIONERS INVENTED SOLID CHOCOLATE.

The Fry and Sons shop concocted what they called “eating chocolate” in 1847 by combining cocoa butter, sugar, and chocolate liquor. This was a grainy, solid form of the treat.

10. COCOA AND CACAO ARE THE SAME THING.

The words are interchangeable! It’s all one bean.

11. NAPOLEON LOVED CHOCOLATE.

The French leader demanded that wine and chocolate be made available to him and his senior advisers even during intense military campaigns.

12. BAKER'S CHOCOLATE ISN’T JUST FOR BAKING.

Dr. James Baker and John Hannon founded their chocolate company—later called Walter Baker Chocolate—in 1765. That’s where the term “Baker's Chocolate” comes from, not to denote chocolate that’s just meant for cooking.

13. MILTON HERSHEY REALLY WAS A CANDY KING.

The Pennsylvania native may be best known for starting The Hershey Chocolate Company in good old Hershey, PA, but he got his start in candy long before hooking up with chocolate. He founded his first company, The Lancaster Caramel Company, when he was 30 years old.

14. MILK CHOCOLATE WAS INVENTED IN SWITZERLAND.

Daniel Peter created the tasty treat in 1875—after eight years of trying to make his recipe work. Condensed milk ended up being the key ingredient.

15. MAKING CHOCOLATE IS HARD WORK.

Despite its regal background and revered status, the cacao bean doesn’t just magically turn into chocolate—it takes about 400 beans to make a single pound of the good stuff.

16. THE FIRST CHOCOLATE BAR WAS MADE IN ENGLAND.

Way back in 1842, the Cadbury company made the very first chocolate bar. The company is still in existence, and is perhaps most famous for their delightful Easter-themed treats.

17. MOST CACAO IS NOW GROWN IN AFRICA.

Despite its Amazonian roots, most cacao—nearly 70 percent of the world’s supply—comes from Africa. The Ivory Coast is the largest single producer, providing about 30 percent of all the world’s cacao.

18. CACAO TREES CAN LIVE TO BE 200 YEARS OLD.

That may sound impressive, but the tropical beauties only make viable cacao beans for just 25 years of their lifespan.

19. THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF CACAO.

Most modern chocolate comes from forastero beans, which are considered easy to grow—though the crillo bean is believed to make much tastier chocolate.

20. CHOCOLATE HAS A SPECIAL MELTING POINT.

Chocolate is the only edible substance to melt around 93° F, just below the human body temperature. That’s why chocolate melts so easily on your tongue.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine

iStock/MarkSwallow
iStock/MarkSwallow

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of wine. Here, Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma, spills some of the best. Here are a few things you might not know about wine.

1. Digital eyes are everywhere in today's vineyards.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like army bases—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. 

2. Modern vineyards also bury a lot of cow skulls. 

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. Ferocious foliage is a vintner's secret weapon.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. Roses in a vineyard are the wine country equivalent to the canary in the coal mine. 

Vintners plant roses among their vines because the flowers get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. Birds of prey help protect the grapes.

Glasses of red wine and charcuterie
iStock/Natalia Van Doninck

Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. Small bugs become big problems in wine tasting rooms.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bug-eating predators are fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. Wine needs to be filtered. 

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. (Unwanted compounds in the wine bind with the fining agents so they can be filtered and removed.) Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. Wine is ever so slightly radioactive (that's a good thing).

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. MRIs can determine the fine from the funk.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. Wines can be aged instantly.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

Taco Bell is Opening a Taco-Themed Hotel in Palm Springs This Summer

Taco Bell Corp.
Taco Bell Corp.

For some, having a Taco Bell and its cheese-filled menu within driving distance is enough. For others, only a Taco Bell destination vacation will do. This August, the popular fast food chain is going to convert an existing Palm Springs, California, hotel into a burrito-filled Taco Bell getaway for a limited time.

The Bell Hotel will have all the usual amenities—rooms, food, gifts, and a salon—operating with a taco-themed cosmetic facelift. The nail salon, for example, will feature Taco Bell-inspired nail art. (Though we're not entirely sure what that consists of—possibly nails that resemble hot sauce packets.) The gift shop will feature Taco Bell apparel. Guests can also enjoy the standard variety of Taco Bell menu items. According to Thrillist, some new additions to their line-up are expected to be unveiled.

The as-yet-undisclosed hotel in Palm Springs will be operating as a Taco Bell partner for five nights total. As with pop-up stores and other publicity campaigns, the expectation is that guests will share their bizarre Taco Bell resort experience on social media and create some buzz around the brand. Taco Bell is no stranger to audacious marketing, as in the case of their Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, which books weddings. Recently, the company also began making home deliveries via GrubHub.

The Bell Hotel website is now accepting sign-ups so fans can be notified when reservations open. The facility is expected to open August 9.

[h/t CNBC]

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