The ‘food of the gods’

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Chocolate, or theobroma cacao (the scientific name) literally translates as “food of the gods”. Cocoa is made from the seed of the cacao tree flower. The seeds are frequently referred to as cocoa beans. In its purest form cocoa is a natural food. What happens to it once it is processed and formed into a product is another story.

Chocolate was brought to Europe by the Spaniards, who learned its use from the Aztecs. It was introduced into England about 1657 and first manufactured in the United States near Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1765. Americans consume approximately 12 pounds of chocolate per capita per year.

When we think of chocolate, many of us visualize a big, chunky bar of sweet deliciousness. But originally, chocolate was only consumed as a bitter beverage.

Chocolate – which is made using beans from the cacao tree, native to Central and South America – is estimated to date back as far as 1900 BC, when it was created by pre-Olmec cultures residing in present-day Mexico. The ancient Mesoamericans roasted the cacao beans, or cocoa beans, before grinding them into a paste that was mixed with hot water, vanilla, chili and other spices to make a frothy drink.

The Olmec, Aztec and Mayan civilizations found chocolate to be a mood-lifting drink and an aphrodisiac, so much so that they believed the beverage had spiritual qualities. The Mayans even worshipped a cacao God, and the beverage was used for religious and sacred ceremonies, hence why chocolate is often referred to as the “food of the gods.”
It wasn’t until 1847 that chocolate became the solid edible bar we know and love today. A British chocolate company called J.S Fry & Sons created it using cocoa butter – vegetable fat extracted from the cocoa bean – cocoa powder and sugar.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, well-known chocolate manufacturers such as Hershey, Cadbury and Mars were formed, and they have been bringing us an array of heavenly sweet treats ever since.

But while we are thankful to these companies for catering to our chocolate needs, they are also responsible for adding potentially unhealthy ingredients to what could be an otherwise healthy – albeit less tasty – food, giving chocolate its reputation as a diet demon.

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