7 Sweet Facts About Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains certain antioxidants called polyphenols that could help fight chronic inflammation of tissues in the circulatory system. Moderate amounts of dark chocolate might also play a role in cancer prevention. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

Chocolate hearts have long been a staple of Valentine's Day, and while the best part of the delectable may be its heart-warming taste, many steps and technologies are involved in bringing that yummy to your tummy.

Here are 7 facts about chocolate's journey from tree to heart box.

1. Chocolate comes from fruits called pods that grow on cacao trees. Farmers grow these trees in hot, rainy regions, primarily near the equator. It tends to take about five years before a seedling has matured enough to produce these pods, reaching its peak pod production at about age 10. Even in what we humans call mid-life, age 30 to 40, cacao trees may be producing pods still.

2. Each of the football-size pods can contain some 50 cacao beans. It takes four cacao seeds to make an ounce of milk chocolate, and 12 seeds to make an ounce of dark chocolate.

3. Once these beans get roasted and de-shelled, they are heated to high temperatures, resulting in a thick paste called chocolate liquor. Next, manufacturers blend the chocolate liquor with sugar and milk, depending on the type of chocolate they are making, to add flavor. The FDA has established standards for different kinds of chocolate, according to the Institute of Food Technologists, a nonprofit scientific society:

  • Milk chocolate must contain 10 percent chocolate liquor, along with its dream (or other dairy products) and sugar.
  • Dark, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor.
  • White chocolate contains no chocolate liquor, but instead consists of cacao butter, sugar, dairy products, and flavorings; it must contain at least 20 percent cacao butter and no more than 55 percent sugar.

4. Once that chocolate gets packaged up, it heads for places like the United States and Switzerland. Every year, Americans enjoy nearly 12 pounds of chocolate, buying more of the sugary treat on Valentine's Day than any other day. If that doesn't sound like a lot, you may be Swiss; turns out, the Swiss treat themselves to more than 22 pounds of chocolate a year, according to 2007 numbers from the American Sugar Alliance.

5. Europe is full of chocolate lovers. In fact, as far back as the late 1700s, those who lived in Madrid, Spain, enjoyed nearly 12 million pounds of chocolate every year. Today, 15 of the 16 leading chocolate-consuming countries (per capita) are in Europe, according to the California Academy of Sciences (CAS).

6. That bar of chocolate may do the heart good. For instance, a study published in 2010 in the European Heart Journal, in which researchers followed more than 19,000 adults between 35 and 65 for at least 10 years, found those who ate chocolate had lower blood pressure and a 39 percent lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared with those who ate the least amount of chocolate. [The Health Benefits of Chocolate]

7. As for whether that chocolate will boost your libido this Valentine's Day, the jury is out. Scientists have no proof of this seeming folklore. As long ago as A.D. 1000, chocolate drinks were exchanged at weddings in southern Mexico and parts of Central America, according to CAS. Legend has it that Casanova ate the sweet treat to improve his love-making, and Marquis de Sade was so passionate about it, he had his wife send it to him while he was in prison, according to CAS.

Live Science Staff
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