10 Interesting Facts About Chocolate You Probably Didn't Know

Indulging in the velvety sweetness of chocolate has always been a pleasure. But did you know that beyond its delectable taste, there are some interesting facts about chocolate you probably didn't know about? From its purpose as a local currency to the popular notion of chocolate as an aphrodisiac, there are so many intriguing tidbits about chocolate to learn. Prepare to have your mind melted and your taste buds tantalised. In this article, we'll delve into 10 interesting facts about chocolate, including some surprising health benefits you may be intrigued to discover. So grab your favourite chocolatey snack, sit back, and let's get started!

Interesting Chocolate Facts - How Many Do You Know?

You know it's delicious, and you probably know it's made from cacao beans. Most people these days are well aware that chocolate is also full of health benefits. So, what else is there to learn? Well, this universally loved sweet indulgence has journeyed through many countries and cultures to become a household favourite.

First, let's take a quick look at what chocolate is and where it comes from before we get into some interesting trivia about this wonderful treat!

Where Does Chocolate Come From?

Chocolate is derived from the cacao bean (Theobroma Cacao), native to South and Central America. Cacao beans were first used during sacred rituals of the Aztecs and Mayans many centuries ago. The botanical name translates to "food of the gods," aptly capturing its revered status amongst locals and throughout history.

There are several steps involved in the production of chocolate, which take the cacao bean from a bitter, brown bean to a glorious delight ready for supermarket and specialty store shelves. The process of creating chocolate from these beans is quite intricate, beginning with drying and fermenting the beans, which enriches the flavour, colour and texture of the final product. Then, a step called ‘winnowing’ involves removing the exterior case of the roasted beans, leaving the dark, bitter cacao nibs on the inside. Next, the cacao nibs are ground into a luscious thick paste. Finally, the paste is moulded into a solid block, ready to be used by chocolatiers and confectionery makers worldwide.

Chocolate is undoubtedly one of the most popular confectionery products, enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Its rich indigenous heritage and ability to satisfy sweet cravings have made it a staple in many people's daily lives. But there's far more to this delectable delight than meets the eye. So, let's jump into uncovering 10 interesting facts about chocolate. Some may surprise you, while others may just make you love this velvety treat even more!

Various types of chocolate laid out.

10 Interesting Facts About Chocolate

1. Chocolate Was Once Used as Currency

That's right, your favourite indulgence used to hold a higher value than money itself! The ancient Aztecs and Mayans treasured cocoa beans so much that they were typically used as a form of currency. Cacao beans were deemed more precious than gold. These little beans were used to buy animals, food and even a woman's hand in marriage! Supposedly, 10 cacao beans would be enough to buy a rabbit. Later, the Spanish conquistadors also took a shine to the humble yet powerful cacao bean. They, too, used these beans as currency, noting that 100 beans would be enough to buy a canoe, complete with fresh water and a turkey. Interesting!

2. Chocolate Contains Caffeine

If you've ever wondered whether or not chocolate has caffeine, wonder no more! The answer is yes, but it's really not that much. Chocolate does indeed contain caffeine, although not to the extent found in your morning cup of coffee. The caffeine content in chocolate varies by type, with dark chocolate generally having more caffeine than milk chocolate. And white chocolate has zero caffeine (more on that next!).

Other factors also influence the amount of caffeine naturally found in cacao beans. The growing conditions, such as altitude, soil quality, climate and temperature, may all impact the amount of caffeine the cacao plant produces. The caffeine content, together with other plant compounds like theobromine and theophylline, have a synergistic effect on the body, making cacao (and, therefore, chocolate) a natural mood booster and energy enhancer. So, next time you need a gentle pick-me-up, go for a piece of dark chocolate!

3. White Chocolate Isn't Actually Chocolate

As surprising as it may seem, white chocolate isn't technically chocolate! But clever marketing would have you fooled! White chocolate is primarily cocoa butter, sugar and a small amount of milk solids. Dark and milk chocolate has more cacao solids and/or chocolate liquor. As a result, both milk and dark chocolate have a deeper colour and more complex flavour, while white chocolate has a unique creamy and sweet taste. If you're a pure chocolate lover, you may be surprised to learn this interesting fact about chocolate!

Pieces of white chocolate laid out on a wooden board.

4. Dark Chocolate Can Improve Brain Function

Want to have a better memory and feel more alert? Well, chocolate could be a delicious secret weapon to help improve your brain health. Dark chocolate is packed with neuroprotective polyphenols, such as flavonoids, resveratrol and catechins, which are known to work in synergy to improve brain function. Plus, these compounds are potent antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Flavonoids also stimulate blood flow to the brain, enhancing cognitive function, memory, and attention span. So, if you're looking for a delicious way to boost your brainpower, don't hesitate to indulge in a piece of dark chocolate.

5. Cocoa Powder Is Not The Same As Cacao Powder

While both are derived from the cacao bean, cocoa and cacao powders undergo different processes, giving two distinct products, each with unique nutritional content and flavour profiles. Cacao powder is obtained by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans, keeping the living enzymes intact and removing the fat (cacao butter). This process retains the raw and bitter taste of cacao and a higher content of antioxidants, fibre, and magnesium.

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is made by roasting the cacao beans at high temperatures before grinding. This gives cocoa powder a sweeter taste and deeper brown colour but reduces the overall nutritional value due to the heat treatment. Therefore, cacao powder would be your ideal choice over cocoa powder if you're after a richer, more bitter chocolate flavour and nutrient-dense profile. However, for traditional baking and desserts, cocoa powder works very well.

6. Chocolate Can Boost Your Mood

Chocolate is more than just a comfort food. It's scientifically proven to improve mood and bring about a feeling of happiness. This is believed to be due to the naturally occurring amines found in chocolate, which stimulates the brain to release endorphins and serotonin (feel-good hormones).

An interesting study published in The Journal of nutritional biochemistry found that daily chocolate consumption directly influences the gut and brain. The results showed that participants who consumed 85% dark chocolate for three weeks had a reduction in everyday negative emotions. The emotional changes were directly linked with microbiome changes in these participants. Specifically, dark chocolate consumption increased the amount of Blautia obeum bacteria in the gut. This bacterial species communicates with the brain via the vagus nerve. This delightful sweet has a powerful ability to boost your mood, giving you a sense of happiness and well-being. So, whether you're feeling down or simply need a little pick-me-up, reach for a piece of chocolate to lift your spirits.

7. The World's Most Expensive Chocolate Is...

If you're a lady or lad of luxury, this one's for you. As if chocolate couldn't be decadent enough, a Danish chocolatier named Fritz Knipschildt invented a chocolate truffle known as 'La Madeline au Truffe'. It's priced at $2,600 per pound (around $250 for a single truffle!), and as far as chocolates go, it's no mean feat.

You might be wondering what could justify such a hefty price tag. Well, 'La Madeline au Truffe' is handcrafted using 70% Valrhona dark chocolate, heavy cream, sugar, truffle oil and vanilla to make a gloriously rich and unctuous ganache. But it's what's inside the truffle that really sets this beauty apart. The centrepiece of the truffle is a rare French Perigord truffle (a rare mushroom), which is then coated in a fine cocoa powder. This makes it the most expensive chocolate in the world. I bet you didn't know that interesting chocolate fact!

A child asleep on top of a bed covered by shadows.

8. Dark Chocolate Can Help You Sleep Better

Sleep is essential for maintaining your physical and mental health. It allows your body to recover from daily activities, rejuvenates your immune system, and helps consolidate memories. Not getting enough sleep can cause many health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Plus, it alters your focus, creativity, and thinking abilities, making you less productive. So, getting a good night's sleep for your overall well-being is super important.

Interesting research shows that dark chocolate can actually be beneficial for sleep! A recent study demonstrated that consuming chocolate in the evening led to a more balanced sleep schedule. This included a quicker onset of sleep and better duration of sleep compared to consuming it in the morning or not at all. Remember, it needs to be dark chocolate to reap these sleep benefits! Dark chocolate is naturally higher in protective polyphenols and antioxidants and lower in sugar. So, consider a small morsel late-night snack of dark chocolate next time you want a great night's sleep.

9. Chocolate Was Integral In Religious Ceremonies

In ancient Mesoamerican civilisations, chocolate was believed to have medicinal properties and was often utilised in religious ceremonies and rituals. The Aztecs even believed that cocoa beans were a gift from their god Quetzalcoatl, as they naturally induced a sense of euphoria. In fact, the local tribes believed that consuming cacao was a direct way to connect with the divine. Very cool!

The making of traditional cacao drinks by ancient Mesoamerican civilisations was an elaborate process, indicative of their high regard for this plant. The cocoa beans were first fermented, dried, and then roasted. After roasting, the beans were ground into a paste, often using stone tools. This paste was then mixed with water, along with other ingredients like chilli peppers and sometimes a variety of local herbs and spices. The mixture was typically frothed by being poured back and forth between two vessels, producing a rich, foamy beverage, not unlike the froth atop a glass of beer. Quite different to how modern-day chocolate lovers enjoy their favourite hot chocolate drink.

10. Chocolate Is Thought To Be an Aphrodisiac

Chocolate has an irresistible appeal, I think many would agree. But for centuries now, it's believed that chocolate has unique aphrodisiac properties, which current science now supports. As previously mentioned, all the 'feel-good' chemicals in cacao products and the presence of tryptophan lead to feelings of well-being and arousal when consumed. Whether it's the irresistible mix of flavours, the smooth and velvety texture, or the magic of those chemicals, chocolate just knows how to captivate and excite us. It's a classic romantic gift on Valentine's Day for good reason!

Indulge In These Interesting Facts About Chocolate (And Reap The Health Benefits)

It's clear that chocolate isn't just a sweet delight. In fact, it's so much more! Chocolate has captured the hearts and taste buds of many people worldwide. From forming a central part of ancient Mesoamerican ceremonies to boosting your brain health and romance prospects - it's fascinating to see how chocolate has such deep historical and cultural significance. Chocolate truly is a wonderful blend of pleasure and health! So, as you savour your next piece of chocolate, take a moment to appreciate its journey through history, captivating allure, and many benefits to your health. Now that you know some interesting facts about chocolate, how could you resist sampling some?

Article References

Bianchi-Demicheli, F., Sekoranja, L., & Pechère-Bertschi, A. (2013). Sexualité, coeur et chocolat [Sexuality, heart and chocolate]. Revue medicale suisse9(378), 624–629.

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2007). The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson.

Cornejo, O. E., Yee, M. C., Dominguez, V., Andrews, M., Sockell, A., Strandberg, E., Livingstone, D., 3rd, Stack, C., Romero, A., Umaharan, P., Royaert, S., Tawari, N. R., Ng, P., Gutierrez, O., Phillips, W., Mockaitis, K., Bustamante, C. D., & Motamayor, J. C. (2018). Population genomic analyses of the chocolate tree, Theobroma cacao L., provide insights into its domestication process. Communications biology1, 167. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-018-0168-6

Hernández-González, T., González-Barrio, R., Escobar, C., Madrid, J. A., Periago, M. J., Collado, M. C., Scheer, F., & Garaulet, M. (2021). Timing of chocolate intake affects hunger, substrate oxidation, and microbiota: A randomized controlled trial. FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 35(7), e21649. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.202002770RR

Lamport, D. J., Pal, D., Moutsiana, C., Field, D. T., Williams, C. M., Spencer, J. P., & Butler, L. T. (2015). The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on cerebral perfusion in healthy older adults during conscious resting state: a placebo controlled, crossover, acute trial. Psychopharmacology232(17), 3227–3234. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-015-3972-4

Parker, G., Parker, I., & Brotchie, H. (2006). Mood state effects of chocolate. Journal of affective disorders92(2-3), 149–159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2006.02.007

Shin, J. H., Kim, C. S., Cha, L., Kim, S., Lee, S., Chae, S., Chun, W. Y., & Shin, D. M. (2022). Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry99, 108854. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2021.108854

Sumiyoshi, E., Matsuzaki, K., Sugimoto, N., Tanabe, Y., Hara, T., Katakura, M., Miyamoto, M., Mishima, S., & Shido, O. (2019). Sub-Chronic Consumption of Dark Chocolate Enhances Cognitive Function and Releases Nerve Growth Factors: A Parallel-Group Randomized Trial. Nutrients11(11), 2800. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112800

Wikipedia Contributors. (2024, Jan 23). History of Chocolate. Retrieved from Wikipedia website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_chocolate, viewed Jan 23, 2024