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Chocolat Anyone!

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Most of us enjoy one form or another of chocolate. Sometimes we eat a warm chocolate chip cookie or a good piece of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting with a cold glass of milk (or maybe chocolate milk). Other than Easter, Christmas or Valentine’s day, we seem to have an old tradition of having something chocolatey for our birthdays.

We tend to take for granted the nice piece of chocolate we all give to our loved ones. The tradition of giving chocolate began in 19th century .The 19th century was the time of the Industrial Revolution. During the time when machines started to make our lives easier, a Dutch chemist Conrad Van Houten developed a way of making powdered chocolate - the kind you reach for in the cupboard to make a good glass of chocolate milk. That is the same chocolate powder used to make the Hershey’s bar you are currently craving right now. Later on, Henri Nestle joined forces with a Swiss corporation to bring about Nestle Chocolate. This later inspired companies like Hershey to bring us more varieties of chocolate.

The most popular holiday for giving chocolate is not Easter, your birthday, or Valentine’s day but it is Christmas. It's a tradition we practice and yet we might wonder about some of the interesting history or importance of chocolate.

Chocolate means ”bitter water”. It comes from the seeds of the Cacao tree. It is bitter because it has no sugar in its natural form.

Yes, it is Cacao and not Cocoa. This is the most common misspelled word in the English language. The earliest dated use of chocolate is around 1100 b.c. The use was medicinal. It was thought that chocolate reduced fatigue.

Cacao has its origin in Northern South America. It comes from the seeds of the Cacao plant .It was introduced to Europe as a gift from Montezuma to Cortes. The Aztecs used it as a “tribute” or gift of friendship.

There are four types of chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and couverture chocolate. Dark chocolate is 100 percent cacao solids and cacao butter. Milk chocolate is about 20 percent cacao solids and uses vegetable oil instead of cacao butter. White chocolate is made with cacao butter and no cacao solids. Couverture chocolate is the special chocolate coating you get on chocolate covered candy. It is high in content of both cacao solids and cacao butter.

Chocolate triggers release of endorphins in your brain. Endorphins help one relax, have pleasure, and relieve pain. Chocolate is also thought to promote release of serotonin which is a natural antidepressant. Chocolate also contains alkaloids, including theobromine. Theobromine is a heart stimulant and a blood thinner. It is poisonous to cats and dogs because they metabolize or break down theobromine more slowly. Theobromine inhibits the production of free radicals which may be responsible for causing the aging process and tissue damage.

Pure chocolate is 10 per cent iron and is recommended by the FDAbecause it is healthier for you than the other chocolates.

The following is some interesting statistics about chocolate:

The following are some interesting statistics about chocolate:

- 3 million tons of cacao beans are sold each year.

- The market value of chocolate is 5.1 billion. Americans, alone, spend 7 billion dollars per year on chocolate.

- Americans eat 12 pounds per capita while the Swiss eat 21 pound per capita per year. Now that’s a lot of Chocolate!

So if you are about to bite into that piece of chocolate after reading this article, enjoy it and share some with the ones you love.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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