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Cocoa stories: chocolate facts that every chocolate lover should know

It is one of the most popular foods. It melts in the mouth and it has a velvety smoothness. Over the centuries, chocolate has been an integral part of various civilizations and has acquired very passionate fans. If you are one of them, here are some interesting and intriguing chocolate facts that you should know.

What is chocolate?

Chocolate is actually made from cocoa beans, the seeds of Theobroma cacao plant. It is created through a series of processes, resulting in a versatile food product thar is enjoyed in various forms all over the world. 

Chocolate contains approximately 500kcal per 100g. It contains mostly fat (in the form of cacao butter) and sugar, unless you eat a 99% chocolate. Chocolate is rich in polyphenols such as catechins, anthocyanins and proanthocyanins. However, the exact content of polyphenols depends on manufacturing processes and raw ingredients. Dark chocolate also contains minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, copper, zinc iron, magnesium and caffeine (30g of dark chocolate contains about 15mg of caffeine).

According to some meta-analysis, cocoa consumption is associated with lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders including coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, stroke and diabetes. 
chocolate facts - cocoa bean
Where does chocolate come from? 

The first civilization known to have cultivated cocoa plants was the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica, the regions of present-day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
In fact, the Maya civilization considered cocoa a sacred crop that had divine origins. Cocoa became more known in Europe around 1528 when Hernán Cortés brought it to King Charles of Spain.

Hot chocolate: a modern-era drink or a beverage with a rich history?

If you think that a cup of hot chocolate is an invention of the 20th century, you might want to give it a second thought. Hot chocolate is indeed an old drink with a very rich history. Its origins can also be traced back to the ancient Mesoamerica and mainly the Maya. 

According to them, chocolate was a hot drink prepared with hot water, cinnamon and pepper. It is believed, that Christopher Columbus was the first European who drank chocolate in 1502 when he was travelling around Nicaragua. 

What was it called before it was known as chocolate?

The word chocolate originates in the Aztec world and the term 'xocolatl' which literally means bitter water. 'Xocolatl'  refers to the traditional Mesoamerican beverage made from cocoa. However, in 1753 the scientist Carl Linnaeus named the cocoa plan 'Theobroma cacao'. A name that derives from the name Theobroma, which means 'food of the Gods' in Latin, and the Aztec word 'xocolatl'.
chocolate facts - glasses with hot chocolate
Is there a World Chocolate Day? 

Yes there is! Every year on 7th July, most chocolate fans around the world celebrate World Chocolate Day or International Chocolate Day.  

What is a 'cocoa year'?

A 'cocoa year' refers to the annual cycle of cocoa production and trading. It is the time frame during which cocoa beans are harvested and processed. The 'cocoa year' typically follows the agricultural calendar of cocoa-producing countries. Did you know that a 'cocoa year' officially begins in October and ends in September?

How many cocoa beans are produced every year?

From October 2021 to September 2022 over 5.242.000 tons of cacao beans were produced globally. When it comes to the countries with the highest production, for the cocoa year 2019-2020, nine countries produced all together over 93% of the world's cocoa. These are Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Ecuador, Cameroon, Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru and the Dominican Republic. (source: International Cocoa Organization - ICCO).
chocolate facts - cocoa powder
From bean to bar: how many steps are needed to produce chocolate from cocoa beans? 
The production of chocolate involves several steps, from harvesting the cocoa beans to processing them into different chocolate products:
- Harvesting of cocoa pods, mainly by hand
- Fermentation in order to develop the chocolate flavour
- Drying to prevent mold growth
- Roasting to reinforce their flavour
- Winnowing
- Nibs grinding
- Alkalization to modify acidity levels or flavour. 
- Pressing 
- Conching in order to mix the cocoa paste with other ingredients
chocolate facts - dark, milk and white chocolate
What are the most popular chocolate varieties?

There so many chocolate varieties to choose from out there. The most common ones are dark chocolate, gianduja, milk and white chocolate. 

Dark chocolate typically contains a higher percentage of cocoa solids. In Italy it contains a minimum percentage of 43 to 99% of cocoa. Usually, most of the benefits attributed to chocolate are linked to dark chocolate consumption.

Gianduja chocolate is a mix of mainly hazelnuts, cocoa and sugar. It comes from Italy, it is smooth and creamy. Milk chocolate is a mix of mainly cocoa butter, milk or milk powder and sugar. It contains a much lower percentage of cocoa solids compared to dark chocolate. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids. It contains only cocoa butter, milk and sugar.
chocolate facts - Gianduja chocolate
Which chocolate should you choose?

If you are a chocolate lover, go for a dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or more. Prefer those which contain cocoa paste instead of sugar as the main ingredient. In general, choose chocolate products with lower sugar content and if possible without non-cocoa added fats.

Remember, the higher the cocoa percentage the higher the fat content, the magnesium content and the lower the sugar content. Milk chocolate is sweeter and higher in sugar. Dark chocolate with high cocoa percentage is higher in fat but lower in sugar. 

Last but not least...a little tip

Eat your chocolate slowly, let each chocolate bar square melt in your mouth so that you can taste its full flavour, and aromas. The best part? The longer you keep the chocolate piece in your mouth, the more satiety signals are sent to your brain.