20 Things You Never Knew About Chocolate

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iStock

Happy National Chocolate Day! In celebration of this most delicious holiday, let’s brush up on our chocolate knowledge.

1. THERE ARE MULTIPLE CELEBRATIONS OF CHOCOLATE EACH YEAR.

Holiday makers are constantly on the hunt for a reason to munch on chocolate, so the calendar offers plenty of excuses to buy a bar. July 7 is also Chocolate Day, a nod to the historical tradition that the day marks when chocolate was first brought to Europe on July 7, 1550, though a number of sources argue that it might have hit the continent’s shores as far back as 1504, thanks to Christopher Columbus. Official day or not, we do know that chocolate first arrived in Europe some time in the 16th century. There's also National Milk Chocolate Day on July 28, International Chocolate Day on September 13, and, of course, National Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds Day on November 7.

2. CHOCOLATE IS ACTUALLY A VEGETABLE—KIND OF.

Milk and dark chocolate come from the cacao bean, which grows on the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), an evergreen from the family Malvaceae (other members of the family include okra and cotton). This makes the most important part of the sweet treat a vegetable.

3. WHITE CHOCOLATE IS NOT CHOCOLATE.

Because it doesn't contain cocoa solids or chocolate liquor, white chocolate isn't chocolate in the strict sense. But it does contain parts of the cacao bean—mainly cocoa butter.

4. THE CACAO BEAN IS NATIVE TO MEXICO AND BOTH CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA.

It’s believed that inhabitants of these areas first started cultivating the bean as far back as 1250 BCE, and perhaps even earlier.

5. HOT CHOCOLATE WAS THE FIRST CHOCOLATE TREAT.

Cacao was brewed in both Mexican and Aztec culture, though the result was nothing like today’s hot chocolate—it was a typically bitter concoction that was often used for ceremonial occasions like weddings.

6. MARIE ANTOINETTE LOVED HOT CHOCOLATE (THE MODERN KIND).

Marie didn’t just love cake, she also loved chocolate, and hot chocolate was frequently served at the Palace of Versailles. It wasn’t just the taste everyone loved—it was also believed that the drink was an aphrodisiac.

7. CACAO WAS ONCE USED AS CURRENCY.

The Aztecs loved and valued the cacao bean so highly that they used it as currency during the height of their civilization.

8. SPANISH FRIARS HELPED SPREAD THE LOVE.

After cacao and chocolate were introduced to Europe, traveling Spanish friars took it to various monasteries, handily spreading it around the continent.

9. A PAIR OF BRITISH CONFECTIONERS INVENTED SOLID CHOCOLATE.

The Fry and Sons shop concocted what they called “eating chocolate” in 1847 by combining cocoa butter, sugar, and chocolate liquor. This was a grainy, solid form of the treat.

10. COCOA AND CACAO ARE THE SAME THING.

The words are interchangeable! It’s all one bean.

11. NAPOLEON LOVED CHOCOLATE.

The French leader demanded that wine and chocolate be made available to him and his senior advisers even during intense military campaigns.

12. BAKER'S CHOCOLATE ISN’T JUST FOR BAKING.

Dr. James Baker and John Hannon founded their chocolate company—later called Walter Baker Chocolate—in 1765. That’s where the term “Baker's Chocolate” comes from, not to denote chocolate that’s just meant for cooking.

13. MILTON HERSHEY REALLY WAS A CANDY KING.

The Pennsylvania native may be best known for starting The Hershey Chocolate Company in good old Hershey, PA, but he got his start in candy long before hooking up with chocolate. He founded his first company, The Lancaster Caramel Company, when he was 30 years old.

14. MILK CHOCOLATE WAS INVENTED IN SWITZERLAND.

Daniel Peter created the tasty treat in 1875—after eight years of trying to make his recipe work. Condensed milk ended up being the key ingredient.

15. MAKING CHOCOLATE IS HARD WORK.

Despite its regal background and revered status, the cacao bean doesn’t just magically turn into chocolate—it takes about 400 beans to make a single pound of the good stuff.

16. THE FIRST CHOCOLATE BAR WAS MADE IN ENGLAND.

Way back in 1842, the Cadbury company made the very first chocolate bar. The company is still in existence, and is perhaps most famous for their delightful Easter-themed treats.

17. MOST CACAO IS NOW GROWN IN AFRICA.

Despite its Amazonian roots, most cacao—nearly 70 percent of the world’s supply—comes from Africa. The Ivory Coast is the largest single producer, providing about 30 percent of all the world’s cacao.

18. CACAO TREES CAN LIVE TO BE 200 YEARS OLD.

That may sound impressive, but the tropical beauties only make viable cacao beans for just 25 years of their lifespan.

19. THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF CACAO.

Most modern chocolate comes from forastero beans, which are considered easy to grow—though the crillo bean is believed to make much tastier chocolate.

20. CHOCOLATE HAS A SPECIAL MELTING POINT.

Chocolate is the only edible substance to melt around 93° F, just below the human body temperature. That’s why chocolate melts so easily on your tongue.

Americans Waste Tons of Perfectly Good Food Because They Don't Understand Expiration Dates

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iStock.com/FangXiaNuo

Everyone approaches safe food handling a little differently. Some people rely on the smell test; others are fastidious about washing their hands.

But according to a new survey, consumers waste food—a lot of food—because they don't understand the meaning of the expiration dates on the food labels.

The online survey, led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and published in the journal Waste Management, polled 1029 respondents about their knowledge of food labels that use terms like “best if used by,” “sell by,” or “use by.” Roughly 84 percent said they opted to discard food on or near the so-called expiration dates at least occasionally, while 37 percent said they did it on a regular basis. Just over a third of those polled believed such food labels—often found on packaged dry food as well as bread and canned goods—were federally regulated, which they aren’t.

The survey indicates some confusion over food labeling. Typically, “best by” and “sell by” labels are meant to indicate when a food might begin to experience diminished freshness or quality, not an expiration date by which it could spoil or become a potential source of food-borne illness. By discarding these foods prematurely, researchers say, consumers are contributing to a food waste problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that up to 31 percent of consumable food is wasted at both the retail and consumer levels.

Shoppers aren’t necessarily to blame. The labels often have no explicit explanation on packaging, leaving phrases like “best if used by” open to interpretation. Even individual states have different standards for items like milk, with some using a “sell by” date (with the milk typically good for five days after) and others sticking to a “use by” date.

Other pantry foods may have expiration dates but could conceivably last for years, like sugar, salt, and honey.

Newer food industry standards may clear up some of this confusion, with “use by” designated strictly for items where safety is a concern and other terms (including "best if used by") meant to denote quality. Taking the "use by" suggestion is especially important with deli meats and cheeses that can grow bacteria like Listeria in refrigerated environments. Until there’s a universally recognized standard, however, consumers are likely to remain uncertain about what these terms mean.

So what’s the best approach to interpreting food labels? For dry or non-perishable goods, dates are often a marker of quality, and you’re not likely to do yourself any harm by keeping the food around longer. Perishable goods should be discarded when their “use by” dates have arrived. But no matter what the package says, if doesn’t smell or look quite right, label it trash and go shopping.

[h/t ScienceDaily]

An Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Is Coming to New Jersey

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Now, Food & Wine reports that Bourdain's home state will honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail would draw from the New Jersey episode from season five of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, but it's not clear when it will be officially established. Until then, you can take your own Bourdain-inspired tour by visiting one of the planned trail stops below.

1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
2. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
3. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
4. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
5. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
6. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
7. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
8. Donkey's Place // Camden
9. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

[h/t Food & Wine]

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