- Its scientific name means “food of the gods.”
- The Aztecs mixed it with blood and gave it to sacrificial victims to drink.
- The entire town of Hershey, Pennsylvania was built by Milton Hershey to support his chocolate factory. Its streetlights are shaped like chocolate Kisses.
- The first men to climb to the top of Mount Everest buried a chocolate bar there as an offering to the gods of the mountain.
- Every twenty-four hours, the U.S. chocolate industry goes through eight million pounds of sugar.
- Its special flavor is created by a combination of 600 to 1000 different chemical compounds
Join science author HP Newquist as he explores chocolate’s fascinating history. Along the way you’ll meet colorful characters like the feathered-serpent god Quetzalcoatl, who gave chocolate trees to the Aztecs; Henri Nestlé, who invented milk chocolate while trying to save the lives of babies who couldn’t nurse; and the quarrelsome Mars family, who split into two warring factions, one selling Milky Way, Snickers, and 3 Musketeers bars, the other Mars Bars and M&M’s. From its origin as the sacred, bitter drink of South American rulers to the familiar candy bars sold by today’s multimillion dollar businesses, people everywhere have fallen in love with chocolate, the world’s favorite flavor.
About the Author
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What Is Chocolate Really?
All chocolate comes from trees.
Yes, trees. Chocolate itself doesn’t grow on trees, but cocoa does, and cocoa is the primary ingredient in chocolate.
Cocoa comes from the seeds of the cocoa tree (also called the cacao tree), a medium-size tree that grows to a height of about twenty-five feet. The cocoa tree is an extremely sensitive plant. It requires high heat, preferably maintained between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a tremendous amount of rain: more than forty-eight inches per year. If any of these conditions are missing, the cocoa tree can’t survive. This means that it can only grow naturally on land between a latitude of 20 degrees above and 20 degrees below the equator, where many of the world’s rain forests lie.
The cocoa tree has tiny yellow-white and pink flowers that grow right out of the trunk. They bloom all year round. These flowers are barely half an inch in diameter, and in order for the tree to produce seeds, the flowers have to be pollinated. Many of the world’s plants are pollinated by bees, butterflies, and birds. But these creatures are too big to crawl into the tiny cocoa flower to deposit pollen. That task can be performed by only one minuscule insect: the midge.
The midge is a fly so small you can barely see it. In fact, it has relatives in North America called “no-see-ums,” due to their size. A full-grown midge is barely 1/32 of an inch long.
In order to stay airborne during flight, the midge’s wings must beat an incredible one thousand times per second. (To understand how fast that is, consider this: You can blink your eyes five times a second if you’re incredibly quick about it. For each blink, a midge’s wings beat two hundred times.)
The midge carries pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing the cocoa tree. Only about three flowers out of every thousand manage to grow into a seedpod. This results in about thirty seedpods per tree during each harvesting season. Even though pods grow out from the tree all year round, growers usually pick them during just two or three harvests per year.
These pods are as large as the midge is small. Each seedpod, which grows straight out from the trunk and branches of the tree, is the size and shape of a striped football. Depending on the tree and how ripe the pods are, they can be any number of colors, from orange and gold to bright red and deep purple.
When the pods mature, at about six months, they are cut off the tree by workers using long knives or machetes. Each tree’s harvest is piled into an open area, along with pods from other trees. A typical cocoa plantation of just a few acres will produce thousands of pods.
Once the harvest is collected, each pod is split open by hand. Inside the pod are several dozen purple seeds, coated with thick white pulp. The seeds are called cocoa beans and are about the size and shape of almonds.
The beans and pulp are pulled out of the pod. Huge tree leaves, often from banana trees, are laid on the ground, and the cocoa beans and pulp are spread out on top of them. The beans are left to dry on the leaves, but they also begin to ferment, which means their internal chemicals start to break down as they decay. During this fermentation process, the pulp turns into liquid and soaks into the beans. Any excess liquid forms small puddles in the leaves. This liquid is sometimes saved as a slightly sweet fruit juice, but in most cases it is drained off.
Once all the liquid pulp is gone, the beans are left out in the sun to continue drying. After they are thoroughly dried out, they are cracked open. This creates shells and nibs, similar to what you get when you break a peanut out of its shell. The nibs are the heart of the cocoa seed, and the shell is the outer coating. And, as with peanuts, the shell isn’t worth much, so shells are sifted to separate them from the nibs.
Now that the nibs are on their own, they are roasted until they become a dark brown color. At this point, they begin to smell something like cocoa. But they are still a long, long way from becoming chocolate.
After they cool, the roasted nibs are ground up between heavy stones. Grinding releases vegetable oil from the nib. This oil is called cocoa butter. As the grinding continues, the friction generates heat. This heat melds the solid pieces of the nib and the cocoa butter together to form a thick liquid. When the grinding is complete, the liquid is allowed to cool. The liquid hardens and becomes a solid that is called cocoa mass. Only after the mass is formed can cocoa and chocolate products be created.
The mass isn’t ready to eat, though. It’s not even close, and it actually tastes pretty awful and quite bitter at this stage. It has to go through many more steps to become the chocolate that people crave. Those steps evolved over hundreds of years, developed one bit at a time by ancient civilizations, warriors, scientists, and small family businesses.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 What Is Chocolate, Really? 3
Chapter 2 The Mysterious History of Chocolate 8
Chapter 3 Columbus, Cortés, Conquistadors, and Cocoa 15
Chapter 4 Pressing Chocolate from a Bean 29
Chapter 5 Chocolate Meets Milk-by Way of Baby Formula 40
Chapter 6 All in the Family 50
Chapter 7 The Candy Battles 61
Chapter 8 Chocolate and the Second World War 77
Chapter 9 Corporations Made of Chocolate 84
Chapter 10 Chocolate Spreads Out 90
Chapter 11 From Bean to Bar 96
Chapter 12 Cocoa Chemistry 110
Chapter 13 The Modern Makers 122
Chapter 14 Chocoholics and Cocoa Culture 136