Amazing facts about chocolate

First a tip: if the weather is hot, don't be tempted to chill your chocolates. This won't impair the flavour but may spoil their appearance. Keep cool but not cold. This will ensure that your gift will keep well, however, don't be surprised if it only lasts for a few minutes!

  • The Aztecs used the cacao bean as a unit of currency.

  • The Aztecs drank chocolate in a bitter drink which also contained chillies, cornmeal and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Imagine that!

  • In 1879, in Switzerland, Rodolphe Lindt developed "conching", a way of kneading chocolate during manufacture, which gives it a smooth consistency.

  • The botanical name for the cacao bean is Theobroma, which is Greek for "food of the gods".

  • The cacao bean was first brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors in 1528. Traders probably spelt the name incorrectly, hence "cocoa" instead of "cacao".

  • In seventeenth-century Europe, chocolate became popular as a sweet drink made with sugar and vanilla.Mayan Cacao God (bowl engraving)

  • Henri Nestle was the first to create milk chocolate by adding condensed milk to the mixture when making chocolate bars.

  • Cacao trees produce pods, each of which contains 20 to 50 cacao beans.

  • Engraving of the cacao fruit (19th century)Cacao beans are fermented, dried, roasted and ground before being used to produce chocolate.

  • White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, which is the fat extract from crushed roasted cacao beans. White chocolate contains no caffeine.

  • Cocoa butter makes a sensuous massage cream.

  • There are different varieties of cacao beans with different flavours, much the same as there are different varieties of grapes which produce different wines.

  • Chocolate liquor - extracted from crushed, roasted beans - is solid at room temperature but melts at 92 degrees Fahrenheit, round about tongue temperature and hence the melt-in-the-mouth pleasure effect.

  • Chocolate contains hundreds of chemicals including the stimulant phenylethylamine, which creates a "feel-good factor".

  • The word chocolate comes from the Aztec word, "cacahuatl".

  • Chocolatiers have their own technical terms, for example, "praline" which means a mixture made from a paste of chocolate and crushed hazelnuts; or "ganache", which is a mixture of chocolate and cream with a smooth texture. The ganache chocolate was born when a French 19th-century apprentice knocked some cream into a tub of chocolate. His boss called him, "un ganache" - an imbecile!

  • In the eighteenth century, chocolate was regarded as an aphrodisiac (it still is!). The celebrated Italian libertine, Giacomo Casanova, took chocolate before bedding his conquests.

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