Fact #1: Chocolate makes everything better. It’s literally heavenly—the scientific name for the plant is Theobroma cacao, which means “food of the gods.” Grab a nice piece of dark chocolate while you discover the fascinating facts behind the most delicious substance on earth.
Chocolate is technically (sort of) a fruit. It’s the seed of the cacao tree, which grows in western Africa and other warm, rainy climates. It takes about 400 beans to make a pound of chocolate, and each cacao tree can produce about 2500 beans a season. A third of the world’s chocolate comes from Côte d’Ivoire.
If you don’t want to do the math—who can blame you?—that’s about 6 and a quarter pounds of chocolate per tree.
Cacao beans go through more transformations than Lady Gaga. They are harvested, fermented, dried, and ground up into a paste. That paste is then split into two parts—cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. The proportion of butter to liquor determines how dark the chocolate is.
70 percent liquor is considered dark chocolate, while milk chocolate is usually about a 50-50 split. White chocolate is made using only cocoa butter.
It turns out that letting a good piece of chocolate melt on your tongue triggers the same responses as kissing. But the pleasurable effects last longer with chocolate. Scientists point to anandamide, a compound found in both chocolate and our brains, as the main “feel-good” culprit. The compound is similar to the THC in marijuana! Chocolate doesn’t quite get you high, but it presses some of the same buttons.
How come your doctor says chocolate can be good for you while your dentist begs you to quit eating it? Well, it all comes down to the balance of chocolate—which is packed with beneficial antioxidants—versus sugar and fat. Dark chocolate can be good for you. But a bar of cheap milk chocolate has few of the benefits and too many ingredients that rot your teeth and cause you to gain weight.
If you want to add a healthy amount of chocolate to your diet, go for a one-ounce serving of 70 percent or more dark chocolate a few times a week. The good stuff in dark chocolate is similar to the antioxidants found in red wine—sounds like a party!
The ancient Aztecs indulged in a spicy drink they called xocoatl, which was made from water, crushed cacao beans, and cayenne. Sounds like a cleanse the Kardashians would recommend, doesn’t it? The emperor Montezuma II was the OG chocoholic, consuming more than 50 cups of xocoatl every day.
The first person (we know of) to drink chocolate milk was Sir Hans Sloane, who got the bright idea to mix chocolate into his milk while studying in Jamaica. It wasn’t until relatively recently that we started to enjoy chocolate as a solid food instead of a drink. The chocolate bar was invented in 1847 by a man named Joseph Fry. We salute you, good sir!