Chocolate is, on the whole, an important part of our lives. We eat it in cakes, cookies and brownies; also mousses, puddings, tarts, soufflés, sauces and biscuits …the list goes on — endlessly. Chocolate is there when we celebrate and it’s a panacea to the pain of heartache, melancholy and plain old disappointment. It’s a part of contemporary female consciousness: we crave it and then berate ourselves for eating it; indulge and then expiate with a guilt-driven workout. Whether as a source of comfort or a cause for self-reproach, bars, slabs, truffles and steaming mugs of the hot, drinking variety are never far from our minds, and so, in homage to one of our favourite love-hate relationships, I’ve put together a list of 7 facts about chocolate.
Apparently, Christopher Columbus and his exploring band of sailors were the first Europeans to experience chocolate. They were such big fans of the stuff that cocoa beans were amongst the ‘treasures’ he and his men brought back to Spain to be officially presented to the King and Queen.
The tree from which cocoa seeds (not beans as we often call them) are harvested has the scientific name ‘Theobroma Cacao.’ ‘Cacao’ derives from an Olmec (ancient South American) word ‘kakawa,’ but ‘theobroma’ is Greek and means ‘food of the Gods.’ Appropriate, no?
It’s recently become popular to emphasis the caffeine content in chocolate, and to cite this as one of the reasons we should avoid it. In reality, however, there’s about 10 milligrams of caffeine in a 6 ounce cup of cocoa, and about 150 milligrams in an 8 ounce cup of coffee. While there are, undoubtedly, reasons we shouldn’t live only on a diet of chocolate, it seems a high caffeine content doesn’t really qualify as one of them.
Archaeologists have found traces of cacoa in an Olmec jug which dates back to at least 600BC (!). Evidence shows that this ancient society, and the Mayans and Aztec which followed on from it, preferred to take chocolate in liquid form, and crafted special cups especially designed for the purpose drinking their favourite treat.
Cocoa butter is a solid at room temperature but begins to turn to liquid at about 35 or 36 degrees Celsius. We have this fact to thank for chocolate’s signature, satisfying melt-in-the-mouth feature: if the point of dissolution were higher than human body temperature (about 37.5˚ C) we’d all be crunching on our chocolate as if it were dry toast.
Chocolate should never be stored in the fridge. Instead, keep yours in a cool, dry place, away from other foodstuffs. At very low temperatures, chocolate will ‘bloom’ and develop a whitish discoloration; while this is safe to eat, it doesn’t look all that appetising.
It’s true. It is poisonous, but only in very high quantities. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine which stimulates the central nervous system and causes heart-failure, seizures and dehydration, among other unpleasant things. The lethal dose for humans is about 10 kgs (22lbs), though, so you’re probably ok with that bar of dairy milk.
Chocolate has been with us for literally thousands of years, and in that time it has constantly changed shape, taste and function. Today, it’s the ultimate in comfort snacks – it makes bad (or good) days better, it helps to soothe broken hearts and it’s an antidote to just about every kind of minor disappointment. In addition to it’s healing properties, it’s is also a treat, an indulgence and a celebration: that concludes my list of 7 facts about chocolate. Do you have anything to add?
Top Photo Credit: data.whicdn.com
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