Ever wondered about where that yummy chocolate came from? As we move into the holiday season, we’ll be eating more treats, and some will be made of that delicious substance that we all love – Chocolate…Here’s 8 things that you never knew about it…
1) It’s Ancient – Chocolate has been used in it’s raw form for at least 3,000 years. The earliest evidence that we have of its use dates to the Mokaya people. The Aztecs and Maya used chocolate (Cacao) in a bitter drink. Chocolate first came to Europe in 1521 with the conquest of Mexico. The earliest varieties appear to have originated in the Amazon.
2) Africa is the largest producer – Although cocoa originated in the Americas, today Western Africa produces almost two-thirds of the world’s cocoa.
3) It was once reserved only for Royalty – Because cacao was expensive, for several hundred years it was only used by elites, and France reserved it only for the royal court. The Spanish kept it secret for almost 100 years, then it became popular throughout the continent.
4) Eating chocolate can reduce hearth disease by up to 37% – According to studies (here, here, and here) consuming chocolate can reduce by over a third, and greatly improves cardiovascular function. Now you can eat it guilt free!
5) Cacao (Cocoa) beans have to ferment – for up to 7 days before they are ready. The finest cocoa beans for making chocolate will have been fermented for a full week in order to have to richest flavors. The cocoa beans must then be quickly dried. Mass produced cocoa beans will often be under fermented, which is what can cause an upset stomach after eating the chocolate due to higher amounts of theobromine.
6) Over 7 million tons a year are consumed worldwide – It’s expected that worldwide chocolate consumption will grow to over 8.5 million tons annually by 2020. Annual chocolate sales in the US are over $20 billion dollars.
7) Organic Cocoa is Rare – The organic cocoa market represents a very small share of the total cocoa market, estimated at less than 0.5% of total production. The market is growing rapidly though & has increased every year for at least the past decade. Note that this statistic is for certified organic cocoa, but the reality is that most of the small farmers that produce cocoa use organic methods, they just don’t necessarily have the resources to obtain certification.
8) Shortages May be in Our Future – Several articles (here & also here) have noted that large chocolate producer Mars is warning of shortages by 2020 if we don’t plant more trees now. Some producers are switching to more predictable & profitable crops such as rubber, while other producers have been troubled by diseases and insects such as the cocoa pod borer.
Hopefully, cocoa producers be able to increase production to keep up with the growing demand. Here at a little further south, we plan on beginning to import cocoa nibs (raw cocoa) sometime in 2015.
©2014 Ben Gangloff
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