All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.
The chocolate tree’s scientific name, Theobroma cacao, comes from theobroma, or ‘food of the gods’ in Greek and cacao from the Olmec word kakawa. The Olmec were the prehistoric inhabitants of Mexico and probably the first consumers of chocolate. The oldest trace of cacao ever found was in an Olmec jug dating to 600 bc, excavated near Colha in Belize.
The Mayans who followed them called the drink cacahuatl (atl means water). They liked their chocolate hot and frothy, flavoured with chilli and vanilla, and sculpted tubes into their pots so they could blow the liquid into a foam.
The Aztecs also liked foam, but preferred theirs cold. They also used the beans as currency: a rabbit was worth 10 beans; a slave, 100 beans. The standard weight measure was a carga, which was the total weight of cocoa beans a healthy person could carry (24,000 on a good day). Chocolate was the ultimate man’s drink, drunk by warriors to stimulate aggression and sexual performance. It was also drunk by sacrificial victims just before they had their chests cut open and their still-beating hearts pulled out.
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao, an evergreen tropical shrub and member of the mallow family, related to hibiscus, okra, cotton and the notoriously smelly durian fruit.
A mature cacao tree only produces 30 fruit pods a year, and once their seeds (which we confusingly call ‘beans’) are scraped out and dried the yield is less than a kilo of beans per tree per annum. They are also tricky to grow, with a low pollination rate. Scientists still can’t agree which insects are doing the pollinating: most suspect tropical midges, but ants and aphids may also play a role.
A lethal dosage of chocolate for a human being is about 22lb (or 40 bars of Dairy Milk).
Robins can be killed by a single Smartie.
There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.
The early uses for chocolate were medicinal, and chocolate does contain serotonin, phenylethylamine (the so-called ‘love chemical’) and endorphins which, it's claimed, can relieve pain and stress and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Unfortunately the beneficial chemicals come wrapped in a thick coating of sugar and (often) dairy fat, the negative effects of which more than outweigh the chemical upside.
In blind tests where chocolate lovers were given cacao capsules (containing the same balance of chemicals) they didn’t report the psychological benefits they had experienced when they ate a bar of their favourite chocolate. This suggests that the positive effects comes from having satisfied a craving; like other sweet and fatty foods, chocolate is habit forming. Sucking on a piece can make your heart beat faster and longer than a passionate kiss.
However, chocolate is definitely bad news in quantity. It contains high levels of theobromine, a powerful stimulant of the central nervous system. Theobromine poisoning can cause heart failure, seizures, acute kidney damage and dehydration.
White chocolate isn’t really chocolate.
David Morrison of the Greater Glasgow NHS Board and Mark Petticrew of the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit surveyed 300 shops and found that 22% sold deep-fried Mars Bars. Average sales were 23 bars per week, with one shop selling up to 200 a week. A number of the shops complained that the Mars Bars clogged up their fryers, but nevertheless they seem willing to fry almost anything: Creme Eggs, ice cream, bananas and Rolos were all reported.
Dr Petticrew said: ‘Encouragingly, we did also find some evidence of the penetration of the Mediterranean diet into Scotland, albeit in the form of deep fried pizza.’ The practice of frying Mars Bars was first reported in Scotland in 1995 in a chip shop in Stonehaven, but it’s also common in Australia and New Zealand. Bondi Surf Seafoods in Sydney has a big neon sign advertising its deep-fried Mars Bars, which it sells alongside sushi and lobsters.
Honeybees don’t like chocolate: the flowers are odourless and produce no nectar.
Conquered peoples had to pay the Aztecs tribute in cacao beans.
The Vegetable Sandwich chocolate bar came from the health fad of the 1920s. It contained cabbage, celery, peppers, and tomatoes and was its makers claimed that it ‘will not constipate’.
The Chicken Dinner Bar was introduced during the depression in the USA. The chocolate-covered nut bar’s name was a reference to Herbert Hoover’s presidential campaign promise of ‘a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage’. It was advertised with a clucking chicken and was delivered to stores in a chicken-shaped truck.
The Idaho Candy Company makes the Idaho Spud, a spongy, cocoa-flavored marshmallow covered in dark chocolate and dusted with dried coconut.
Pendergast Candy Company in Minneapolis made a new chocolate bar called the Emma in the 1920s, but accidentally put too much egg white in the mixture making it twice as thick as it should have been. They renamed it Fat Emma. The fluffy bar was quite popular and the filling was known as Minneapolis nougat. Frank Mars found a cheaper way of making the bar and renamed it Milky Way.
There is a Danish chocolate bar called Skum Banana.
Queen Victoria sent a tin of Fry's chocolates to every soldier serving in South Africa's Boer War (1899-1902). The metal box saved the life of one Private James Humphrey when a bullet ricocheted off it, and away from his body.
What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.
Before having their chests cut open and their hearts pulled out, Aztec human sacrifice victims were given a cup of hot chocolate.
Cadbury's have copyrighted the purple colour used on their chocolate bar wrappers.
On average, countries with the highest chocolate consumption also have the most Nobel Prize winners.