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Chocolate: Sweet Stuff
of the Gods

By Scott Roeben

There's nothing quite like chocolate. Even the word itself tastes good. When you hear the word "chocolate," you also hear "love," "comfort" and "joy." Other foods simply can't compare. When you hear the word "okra," for example, you don't hear "love" or "joy." It's more likely that you hear a grown man squealing like a pig in an Appalachian forest somewhere.

Fun Facts About Chocolate

You would have to eat more than a dozen Hershey Bars to get the amount of caffeine in one cup of coffee.

A favorite dish of the Aztecs was roast turkey with chocolate gravy.

The best selling candy bar in the U.S. is Snickers.

Chocolate manufacturers currently use 40 percent of the world's almonds and 20 percent of the world's peanuts.

Chocolate syrup was used for blood in the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Psycho.

White chocolate contains no caffeine.

Half of Americans choose what chocolate they eat by the shape of the piece.

American chocolate manufacturers use about 1.5 billion pounds of milk—only surpassed by the cheese and ice cream industries.

On his fourth voyage to the New World, in 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European to taste chocolate.

In soda fountain slang, a "bucket of mud" is a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

In a recent survey, 70 percent of female respondents said they would rather have chocolate than sex.

Chocolate first appeared on film when Jean Harlow ate candy in the 1933 comedy Dinner at Eight.

Sixty-three percent of Americans say they can't resist buying a chocolate for themselves when buying chocolates for someone else.

The average American eats about 10 pounds of chocolate a year. The Swiss average 20 pounds a year.

It takes 400 cacao beans to make one pound of chocolate.

Nabisco uses more than 37 million pounds of chocolate a year to make Chips Ahoy cookies.

The microwave was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.

Chocolate was once considered a temptation of the devil.

Vanilla is used to make chocolate.

Of all cookies baked in the United States, 25 percent are chocolate chip.

A national survey showed 80 percent of U.S. teachers in grades kindergarten through eighth grade have received chocolate as a gift from their students.

There are 96 Hershey's Kisses in one pound.

The factory in Hackettstown, New Jersey which makes M&Ms produces 300 million M&Ms a day or about 100 billion M&Ms a year.

According to a survey of sex shop owners, chocolate is the least popular flavor of edible underwear.

Consumers spend more than $7 billion a year on chocolate.

U.S. consumers eat 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate annually, representing nearly half of the world's supply.

Chocolate can be lethal to dogs.

Each Hershey's Kiss is wrapped in five square inches of foil wrap.

Napoleon carried chocolate with him on his military campaigns, and always ate it when he needed quick energy.

Chocolate in a blue wrapper won't sell in Shanghai or Hong Kong because the Chinese associate blue with death.

No, chocolate isn't like other foods. It almost never fails to evoke a smile. It is universally loved by young and old, rich and poor, tall and short, Republican and Democrat, innies and outies. As lyricist and lady's man Rick James once said about chocolate, "Gimme that stuff, that funk, that sweet, that funky stuff." At least we hope he was talking about chocolate.

The Enemy

Our relationship with chocolate is complicated. For a sad few, chocolate is the "enemy." It's a relentless temptation, like the urge to push personal injury attorneys and Frenchmen into oncoming traffic.

Chocolate can be a trap. It can result in guilt. It can result in compulsion. Sometimes it can result in thighs the size of national monuments.

Chocolate has even been called "the poor man's cocaine." In fact, the only real difference between chocolate and a drug is that one doesn't need to call a twitchy, suspicious guy nicknamed "The Neck" to get a chocolate fix, because unlike illicit drugs, chocolate is everywhere—like boy bands and banner ads.

Sweet History

Chocolate has a long and jittery history. It was first refined by the Aztecs. Or perhaps it was the Mayans. These two groups are confusingly similar, and would it really have killed them to wear color-coded nametags to make it easier to tell them apart?

So, the Aztecs and Mayans, in a joint venture, developed chocolate and became so enamored of it that they promptly forgot to invent the wheel. This was a setback for the Aztecs and Mayans. Wheels are important. For example, they are often a necessity when driving to buy chocolate. But that is not especially relevant to the topic at hand. We know that. Don't you think we know that? (Sorry, we're a little irritable from all the, you guessed it, chocolate.) Back to history.

Cocoa beans were, in the days of the Aztecs, used as currency. In fact, cocoa was so valuable, the Aztecs required all taxes be paid in cocoa beans. Just think, if America had utilized this system, in colonial times, our forefathers would have participated in the Boston Bean Party, angrily throwing crates of beans into Boston harbor to protest taxation without representation. Their chant would have been "No justice, no beans!" Or maybe "Two, four, six, eight, look at all those beans in the harbor!" It is a historical fact that our forefathers were much better at protesting injustice than they were at devising effective rhymes.

So, the Aztecs. The Aztecs got to name chocolate, having apparently won the coin toss, and their chosen name for chocolate was "xocalatl," which translates as "a word having too many vowels." No, of course it doesn't mean that. "Xocalatl" means "bitter water," which makes a lot more sense given that chocolate isn't bitter, nor did it have anything to do with water.

Montezuma, the last Aztec ruler, personally consumed some 50 pitchers of chocolate drink each day and had two thousand pitchers prepared for members of his household. This in lieu of a decent hourly wage, no doubt.

The disappearance of the Aztec culture is one of history's greatest enigmas, right up there with how Regis Philbin somehow managed to become a celebrity. The Mayans also disappeared, but they didn't make such a big deal out of it.

Chocolate did not become popular in Europe until it was introduced by the explorer Hernando Cortés to the court of King Charles V. This was an era of conquest and of people using Roman numerals as last names.

There has been a good deal of history since days of Hernando Cortés (who you'll note we're not making fun of because we have no intention of provoking a letter writing campaign by the Spanish Explorer Anti-Defamation League), but everyone knows history is about as relevant as "facts" or "evidence," so let's just skip ahead, shall we?

Melting the Mysteries of Chocolate

Just when we think we know everything about chocolate, lo, we say words like "lo" and discover there's so much more to know.

There's a growing body of evidence to suggest that the seemingly magical properties of chocolate aren't just the result of wishful thinking. Science and medicine have begun to melt away the crunchy coating of the chocolate mystique, leaving a soft, gooey center of revelation. Or something.

Recently, researchers announced that chocolate contains chemicals that appear to counteract the effects of depression. Incidentally, also effective as a deterrent to depression is watching as a big-boned person becomes trapped in a folding chair. (Your results may vary.)

In other developments, scientists have determined that chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a natural substance reputed to stimulate the same reaction in the body as falling in love. In other words, chocolate has many things in common with love. Specifically, it's sticky, the good stuff costs a fortune, and when it gets old, it gets white and crusty around the edges. Yes, it's exactly like love.

More good news about chocolate. A recent Dutch study reported chocolate contains anti-oxidants called flavonoids that may reduce the risk of heart disease. The study also suggested that Flavonoids would be a great name for space aliens if they ever land on Earth. Again.

The British Medical Journal revealed that eating moderate amounts of chocolate may increase longevity. So, guys, ignore all those e-mail solicitations promising to do the same—just have a candy bar and you'll be longer in no time.

To further cement the case for the benefits of chocolate, experts now agree that chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, natural hormones that generate feelings of pleasure and wellbeing, much like receiving the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

In Conclusion, Probably

It's difficult to imagine the world without chocolate. It pervades our lives, our culture and our fantasy lives, especially that one fantasy involving a bathtub of melted chocolate, twin dwarfs in hula skirts, and a three-hole punch. Or perhaps even a fantasy that doesn't send up so many red flags among psychiatric professionals.

Chocolate is a rare treasure in that it cures what ails us, both emotionally, and if Dutch researchers are to be believed, physically.

Cacao, after all, comes from the Aztec word "cacahualt," which translates as "food of the gods." Apparently, when it comes to celebrity endorsements, chocolate's got it made.

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