Sweet Chocolate

By: Co+op

For those with a passion for chocolate, the world of chocolate affords fans many choices beyond bittersweet, milk, and semi-sweet. If you're a chocolate lover, you no doubt know how amazing it tastes, but how much do you know about this food Mayan and Aztecs enjoyed for thousands of years? Here's a nibble into the wide world of chocolate:

  • Cacao is the fruit from which chocolate originates. The components of chocolate—chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder—are extracted from the cacao bean, which grows inside the fruit.
  • In order to be considered "bittersweet," chocolate must contain a minimum of 35% chocolate liquor by weight, which is made by grinding cacao beans to a smooth liquid.
  • Just like wine and coffees, cacao grown in different areas of the world, or even regions of the same country, can have very different flavor notes depending on the climate, soil, and other factors.
  • Is white chocolate really chocolate? Some say "yes," others "no." Here's why: white chocolate does not contain cocoa powder, just cocoa butter. Some say real chocolate must contain both cocoa butter and cocoa powder, others say cocoa butter is enough to qualify.
  • Early cacao consumption was spicy, not sweet. The Aztecs and Mayans mixed cacao with corneal, chile peppers and other ingredients to make a spicy frothy drink.
  • During the Aztec empire, the highly valued cacao beans were used as currency as well as tribute payments to the empire.
  • The word “chocolate” comes from the word, xocoatl, meaning "bitter water" in the Aztec's Nahuatl language.
  • The Spaniards discovered cacao during the 1521 conquest of Mexico, brought it back to Spain and were the first to sweeten cacao.
  • The world's appetite for chocolate remains strong. In the year ending September 2012, an estimated 4 million tons of cacao had been grown worldwide, the majority in Africa.

Look for fairly-traded and organically-grown chocolate for an especially sweet choice for your sweetie—and for the cacao farmers!

Check out these delicious chocolate recipes. And if you want to know more about chocolate, check out the Field Museum's archives.