There are a lot of things that I don’t like about Valentine’s Day, but there’s one thing I totally love about it—the chocolate.
Chocolate as we know and love it began in Southern Mexico where it was first enjoyed as a fermented beverage as early as 450 BC. The Aztecs believed that the cacao seeds, from which chocolate is made, were a gift from their God of Wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. The seeds of the cacao had so much value to the ancients that they were even used as currency. [One hundred seeds could buy you one turkey!]
While cacao is naturally bitter, it was originally prepared as a drink. It was mixed with spices or corn puree. It was thought to be an aphrodisiac and give the drinker strength before battle. After being brought to Europe during the sixteen century by explorers, it was mixed with sugar and its popularity skyrocketed.
However, cacao beans are difficult to harvest, growing on trees that naturally reach heights of sixty feet, and even harder to refine. So, it was primarily a treat for royalty until a Dutch Chemist, Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented a cocoa press in 1828 with revolutionized the process of chocolate-making. The press could squeeze fatty cocoa butter from the roasted beans, leaving behind a dry cake that could be pulverized into a fine powder and mixed with liquids or other ingredients to make chocolate confectionaries. The resulting drop in production costs made chocolate affordable to the masses.
In 1847, the British chocolate company J.S. Fry & Sons created the first solid edible chocolate bar from cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar. Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine in 1879 gave chocolate a velvety texture and superior taste. Cadbury, Mars, and Hershey ushered in the chocolate boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s and remain big names in the candy world today. In the twentieth century, chocolate was an essential ration of the US soldiers during wars. Today, the average American consumed approximately twelve pounds of chocolate each year. More than $75 billion worldwide is spent on chocolate annually.
Studies in 2017 show that chocolate may have a role in the health of your heart and brain. Cacao beans are rich sources of iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. Dark chocolate lovers, listen up, because dark chocolate is found to contain two or three times the benefits because milk chocolate is diluted with milk and sugar. There has also been a correlation found between chocolate consumption and a lowered risk for heart disease. With anything, moderate intake is the key. Most of the benefits were found when people had two to three servings of chocolate weekly. The benefits disappeared when more than six servings were ingested.
So, even if you’re not a fan of Valentine’s Day, you can still enjoy that sweet, sweet discounted chocolate the day after!