20 Things You Never Knew About Chocolate

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July isn’t all just red, white, and blue birthdays. It’s also a time to revel in the creation of things white, milk, and dark: Chocolate! July 7 is Chocolate Day (not to be confused with National Milk Chocolate Day, which happens to fall on the 28th), and in celebration of this most delicious day, let’s brush up on our chocolate knowledge.

1. July 7 Is Not Just an Arbitrary Day.

Well, sort of: History holds 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.

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 B.C., 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. His 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.

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July 7, 2014 - 12:00pm
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