When most of us hear the word chocolate, we picture a bar, a box of bonbons, or a bunny. The verb that comes to mind is probably "eat," not "drink," and the most apt adjective would seem to be "sweet." But for about 90 percent of chocolate's long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn't have anything to do with it.
"I often call chocolate the best-known food that nobody knows anything about," said Alexandra Leaf, a self-described "chocolate educator" who runs a business called Chocolate Tours of New York City.
The terminology can be a little confusing, but most experts these days use the term "cacao" to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term "chocolate" refers to anything made from the beans, she explained. "Cocoa" generally refers to chocolate in a powdered form, although it can also be a British form of "cacao."
Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods."
Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older.
In the book The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millennia, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Olmec.
Last November, anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania announced the discovery of cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back as far as 1400 B.C.E. It appears that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit, which surrounds the beans, was fermented into an alcoholic beverage of the time.
"Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?" said Richard Hetzler, executive chef of the café at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, as he displayed a fresh cacao pod during a recent chocolate-making demonstration. "You would have to be pretty hungry, and pretty creative!"
It's hard to pin down exactly when chocolate was born, but it's clear that it was cherished from the start. For several centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were considered valuable enough to use as currency. One bean could be traded for a tamale, while 100 beans could purchase a good turkey hen, according to a 16th-century Aztec document.
Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical, or even divine, properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. According to Chloe Doutre-Roussel's book The Chocolate Connoisseur, Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.
Sweetened chocolate didn't appear until Europeans discovered the Americas and sampled the native cuisine. Legend has it that the Aztec king Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate, having tragically mistaken him for a reincarnated deity instead of a conquering invader. Chocolate didn't suit the foreigners' tastebuds at first –one described it in his writings as "a bitter drink for pigs" – but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain.
By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties (it's rumored that Casanova was especially fond of the stuff). But it remained largely a privilege of the rich until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible in the late 1700s.
In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate by removing about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, pulverizing what remained and treating the mixture with alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste. His product became known as "Dutch cocoa," and it soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.
The creation of the first modern chocolate bar is credited to Joseph Fry, who in 1847 discovered that he could make a moldable chocolate paste by adding melted cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa.
By 1868, a little company called Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England. Milk chocolate hit the market a few years later, pioneered by another name that may ring a bell – Nestle.
In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers' rations and used in lieu of wages. While most of us probably wouldn't settle for a chocolate paycheck these days, statistics show that the humble cacao bean is still a powerful economic force. Chocolate manufacturing is a more than 4-billion-dollar industry in the United States, and the average American eats at least half a pound of the stuff per month.
In the 20th century, the word "chocolate" expanded to include a range of affordable treats with more sugar and additives than actual cacao in them, often made from the hardiest but least flavorful of the bean varieties (forastero).
But more recently, there's been a "chocolate revolution," Leaf said, marked by an increasing interest in high-quality, handmade chocolates and sustainable, effective cacao farming and harvesting methods. Major corporations like Hershey's have expanded their artisanal chocolate lines by purchasing smaller producers known for premium chocolates, such as Scharffen Berger and Dagoba, while independent chocolatiers continue to flourish as well.
"I see more and more American artisans doing incredible things with chocolate," Leaf said. "Although, I admit that I tend to look at the world through cocoa-tinted glasses."
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About Amanda Fiegl
Amanda Fiegl is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.Read more from this author
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“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” – Charles Dickens
Chocolate is perhaps the world’s most favorite food. Kids love it, and women stand by it. Whether you are happy, sad, excited, tired or plain bored, a bar of chocolate is all you need to feel better. Give a kid a piece of chocolate, and he’ll feel like the luckiest one on the earth, at least until the chocolate lasts. Your child may not think about the history of chocolate when he has a bar in hand. But if he loves chocolate, he’d also love to hear about its history.
MomJunction has compiled the most interesting facts and information about chocolate, which most people consider the ‘food of gods’.
History Of Chocolate For Kids:
The history of chocolate is long and goes back to thousands of years. The first known use of chocolate was in 1900 BC, more than 3,500 years before Nestle set up his chocolate manufacturing unit. Only at that time, it was not called chocolate.
Archeological findings suggest that civilizations that flourished in Mesoamerica, during the Early Formation period, may have used the bittersweet beans from the cacao trees in their beverages. The findings suggest that people knew how to make chocolate from the cacao seeds way back in 1700s BC (1). Evidence found in the vessels used by these civilizations proves that people often used chocolate in their drinks, possibly fermented.
The Mayans and the Aztecs may also have used cacao seeds in some important rituals. They made a drink with it and called it ‘chocolatl’. They considered the seeds so precious that they may have been used as currency for trade, while the drink made from it was considered food of gods. Only the wealthy Mayans who had enough cocoa seeds to spare enjoyed the drink.
Chocolate found its way into Europe when Columbus brought cocoa seeds back with him to Spain, and presented them as a treasure to King Ferdinand. Two centuries later, an Englishman called Joseph Fry made the first solid chocolate. About 25 years after that, Henri Nestle made the first chocolate bar using condensed milk. And the rest, as they say, is history!
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Fun Chocolate Facts For Kids
Here are some really interesting facts about chocolate for kids.
- The word chocolate is derived from the Mayan word ‘Chocol,’ meaning a hot drink. The bitter, hot drink was called ‘Xacoatl’ by the Aztecs.
- Chocolate was once considered more valuable than gold dust. Imagine that!
- The scientific name of the cocoa plant is Theobroma cacao, where Theobroma means ‘food of the gods’.
- A real chocolate river was created using water, chocolate and cream for the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It stank after a few days!
- White chocolate is not chocolate, because it contains no cocoa.
- Ruth Wakefield created the first chocolate chip cookie in 1930, by accident. She gave the recipe to Nestle in return for a lifetime supply of chocolate. Now that’s an interesting chocolate story for kids!
- During the revolutionary war, a few soldiers were paid in chocolate!
- Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, consumed 50 goblets of chocolate every day.
- Do you know why chocolate melts in your mouth? Because it is the only food that melts at 93 degrees Fahrenheit, below the average human body temperature.
- The Aztecs and the Mayans used chocolate drink as a stress reliever, way before the term ‘stress’ was coined!
- A tiny chocolate chip can give you enough energy to walk 150 feet.
- The smell of chocolate is enough to relax you! Apparently, the scent of chocolate increases theta brain waves that aid in relaxation. No wonder people tend to eat chocolate when they have problems.
- The shape of the cacao pod looks similar to a football, and it grows straight out from the branches.
- Chocolate contains an enzyme called phenylethylamine, which releases the ‘pleasure’ hormones in the brain, a feeling akin to being ‘in love’.
- The world’s biggest chocolate bar weighed 12,770lbs.
- Chocolate-dipped potato chips exist, for real!
- Chocolate can be fatal to dogs and cats.
- Belgium issued limited edition chocolate-flavored stamps in 2013.
- An average American consumes almost 4.5kg of chocolate every year.
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Interesting Information About Chocolate For Kids
Fun facts aside, here is some really interesting information about chocolate and its production. Your children would love to know about it.
- Cacao trees can grow as old as 200 years, but they produce marketable kind of cocoa beans only for first 25 years of their life. In one year, a cacao tree produces around 2,000 pods.
- After the farmers pick the means from the tree, they ferment and dry them. The process may take up to several weeks. After the seeds turn completely dry, the seed reaches to the factory site where the manufacturers prepare chocolate through the specific recipe.
- Once the chocolate reaches the factory site, the beans are properly cleaned, sorted and weighed. Each of the distinct manufacturers utilizes different amount and type of beans to prepare varied kinds of chocolate. Sometimes, the manufacturer may even require ten to twelve different kinds of beans to make some specific variation of chocolate.
- The entire process of manufacturing a chocolate candy or bar may take almost a week.
- Chocolate plant grows abundantly in Central and South America, but for commercial needs manufacturers also grow the trees throughout the tropical region.
- The pods mature slowly throughout the different time of the year. In case the pod appears sticky and whitish, the seeds are very bitter in taste.
- Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world’s cocoa supply.
- Around 400 cocoa beans are used to make one bar or chocolate.
Harvesting cocoa is an ardent task and labor intensive. Fair trade practices are implemented to help cocoa farmers around the world get a better price for their product and make cocoa farming sustainable. Global brands like Cadbury, M&S, Divine Chocolate, RAWR, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Zotter chocolate are a few that encourage Fair trade chocolate production.
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Types Of Chocolate
Chocolate is loved in any form, shape and concentration. But if you want to get into the details of the different varieties of chocolate, may be for your child’s class essay on chocolate for kids, keep reading.
- Bittersweet chocolate contains raw chocolate, cocoa butter and sugar in specific quantities to give a bitter and sweet taste in every bite. Dark chocolate is a type of bittersweet chocolate, also called semisweet chocolate.
- Technically, white chocolate is not chocolate as it does not contain chocolate liqueur, but it may contain at least 20% chocolate along with large amounts of milk solids and sugar.
- Cacao powder is the powder of the cacao beans, minus the shell. It is used to make chocolate milk or hot cocoa drink. It contains around 20% of fat from cacao butter.
- Chocolate liqueur is a smooth chocolate liquid, without alcohol. It is made by grinding the cacao beans into a smooth paste and contains over 50% cacao butter.
- Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate made by hardening chocolate liqueur and is often used in baking. It is also known as baking chocolate, pure chocolate or bitter chocolate.
- Ground chocolate is simply sweet chocolate powder, made by pounding a bar of chocolate. It is not to be confused with cacao powder.
Chocolate Milk For Kids
Besides nibbling on a bar of milk chocolate, kids also enjoy sipping a glass of hot or cold chocolate milk from time to time. If your little girl or boy enjoys drinking chocolate over eating it, here is something you should know about it.
Is chocolate milk good for kid? Yes, it is healthy, unless your child is lactose intolerant. Milk with chocolate powder is a great replacement for plain milk, as it has several nutrients that the kids need.
Also, chocolate milk has lesser added sugar compared to other flavored milk drinks. What’s more, chocolate milk is a healthier, tastier replacement to sweetened beverages and sodas that add a lot of empty calories leading to weight gain.
Here is even better news: chocolate milk has 16 essential nutrients including proteins, vitamin A, B12, B6 and D, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorous, zinc, selenium, magnesium and folate among others. So the next time your child wants a drink, you know chocolate milk is the answer.
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Is Chocolate Healthy For Kids?
Children love chocolate in any form: bar, drink, melted, frosted and even powdered. In fact, kids love them so much that you can bribe them with chocolates. That said, should kids be eating chocolate every day? Is chocolate milk for kids a good idea?
Well, the jury is out: Chocolate is not bad.
In fact, it has several health benefits, when consumed in moderation. Here are some.
- Chocolate is a stress reliever. Dark chocolate contains tryptophan and can improve your positive mood and keep you happy too. (2)
- Chocolate improves the blood flow to the brain and boosts brain function. It also helps regulate blood pressure.
- As opposed to the common belief that chocolate is bad for kids, chocolate helps reduce the growth of plaque and prevents tooth decay. (3)
- Chocolate comes from a plant and is also rich in nutrients. Dark chocolate contains minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc and selenium.
- Dark chocolate has antioxidants that help fight the free radicals and keep diseases at bay.
- Research has proven that chocolate does not induce acne breakout. In fact, dark chocolate has compounds that are good for your teen’s skin.
- Similar to red wines and fruits, cocoa seeds contain a high percentage of antioxidant named flavonoids, which improves your kid’s cardiovascular health.
- Dark chocolate contains almost twice as many flavonoids as milk chocolates, but it contains more caffeine than other chocolates.
- Flavonoids present in cocoa products possess effective anti-clotting, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. They reduce the risk of diabetes in kids by improving insulin sensitivity.
- Dark chocolate is also known to improve and memory and concentration by activating the flavonoids in the hippocampus. (4)
- Though chocolate and cocoa butter contain high levels of saturated and unsaturated fat, the stearic acid in chocolates acts as a neutral fat that does not raise your kid’s bad cholesterol levels.
- Chocolate acts as a stimulant and can give you energy. No wonder you reach out to a bar of chocolate when you are hungry and exhausted!
- Chocolate is also considered to have compounds that activate the body’s natural antidepressant, serotonin. Dark chocolate for kids can keep them in a good mood.
Dark chocolate is healthier than other forms of chocolate, as it has lesser amounts of sugar, milk and other additives.
How Can Chocolate Go Wrong With Kids?
Any food, when taken in excess quantities, is bad for the body. Chocolate is no different. Kids eating chocolate a few times a week is normal.
- A piece of dark chocolate or a glass of hot cocoa with no added sugar, once every day, can be good for health. But eating too much chocolate all of the time can result in weight gain, considering the sugar and fat that an average bar of chocolate contains.
- Excessive intake of chocolate also triggers severe and persistent headache. Hence, children with migraine should restrict consumption of chocolate in large doses. As chocolate contains a percentage of caffeine and sugar, the products often trigger the condition of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children.
- An average milk chocolate bar has over six teaspoons of sugar, the maximum sugar children should get in a day (5). The limit includes the sugar that a toddler gets from different food sources such as vegetables, fruits, grains and milk. Eating a bar of chocolate every day could lead to excess sugar in the body, resulting in weight gain and other health complications.
- A recent study showed that just 6.7g of dark chocolate can help adults stay healthy (6). However, there is no similar research for kids. That said, letting your children eat a bar of chocolate (approximately 50g) can increase their daily intake of sugar, fat and even dairy, which can have adverse effects on their health in the long term.
You can limit your child from eating chocolate by making the right choices.
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Healthy Chocolate Options For Kids
Chocolates come in myriad forms and varieties. Dark chocolate is the healthier option because it contains cocoa and less sugar, fat or milk. However, few kids like dark chocolate, because of its bitter taste. Most of them like the commonly available milk chocolates, which also have a lot of sugar and fat. Some chocolates even contain caffeine that can affect your child’s moods. Read labels on the chocolate hampers to ensure it does not have any caffeine.
To choose the right kind of chocolate, in the right amounts for your child, remember these tips.
- Look for chocolates with low fats, sugar or milk.
- Chocolate flavored nuts are a healthier option when compared to plain milk chocolate. However, chocolates with nuts can be bad if your child has allergies.
- Buy chocolates with no caffeine or trans fat.
- Buy smaller bars of chocolate to limit the sugar and fat intake.
- You can also get chocolate through chocolate-flavored biscuits, cakes, and ice creams. But these foods have more sugar and fat when compared to a bar of chocolate.
- Avoid using chocolate as a bribe or a reward to get your child to do something.
Chocolate is perhaps the one food that your children will continue to love long after they grow up. So, don’t even think about stopping them from eating chocolate. And you shouldn’t either! The only thing that you should do is influence your child’s chocolate eating habits so that they enjoy chocolate in moderation, and not get addicted to it!
Do you think chocolate is good for kids? Tell us why or why not.
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