Chocolate has always been one of the most desired and mysterious of all foods we enjoy. Many interesting facts about chocolate result from the fact that raw cocoa beans contain over 300 chemical compounds. This makes it the most chemically-complex food on the planet.
Cacao (ka-KOW) is the name for the dried seeds of a South American evergreen tree (Theobroma cacao, of the family Sterculiaceae), which are most commonly used in making cocoa, chocolate, and cocoa butter. The cacao tree produces pods all year long, so a typical tree would have pods in every stage of ripeness.
See How is Chocolate Made? for more details.
Raw chocolate (or cacao) contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world. These antioxidants include flavonoids such as polyphenols, catechins, and epicatechins, the same antioxidants that are present in red wine and green tea.
By weight, cacao has more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, acai, pomegranates, and goji berries combined.
Dozens of clinical studies have confirmed the health benefits of dark chocolate. These include a healthier cardiovascular system, prevention of osteoporosis, cancer prevention, and improved mental alertness. Dark chocolate also possesses powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.
Discover more of the Benefits of Dark Chocolate
and learn how to choose the healthiest type of chocolate to eat.
Cocoa solids contain alkaloids such as theobromine, which has a physiological effect on the body. The presence of theobromine makes chocolate toxic to some animals, such as dogs and cats.
Another phytochemical in cacao, anandamide, is an endorphin that the human body naturally produces after exercise. Anandamide has only been found in one plant — cacao.
Contrary to popular opinion, chocolate does not contain much caffeine. A typical sample of cacao beans will yield anywhere from zero caffeine to 1,000 parts per million of caffeine (less than 1/20 of the caffeine in coffee).
See my page on the Nutrients in Chocolate to learn more.
The known history of chocolate goes back as far as 1500BC, when the Olmec Indians were the first civilization to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop.
The Mayans also used the cacao beans as currency, symbolizing edible wealth.
Cacao beans were so revered by the Mayans and Aztecs that they used them as money!
So impressed were the Mayans with cacao’s taste and its ability to promote energy that cacao was celebrated at an annual harvest festival that was devoted entirely to honoring the “cacao god.”
See my page on the History of Chocolate for more details.
Chocolate manufacturers currently use 40% of the world's almonds and 20% of the world's peanuts.
It figures that milk chocolate, the least healthy variety, is also the most popular type of chocolate in North America— 71% of chocolate eaters prefer milk chocolate.
Chocolate is North America's favorite flavor; 52% of adults surveyed like chocolate best, over vanilla and fruit flavors.
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