chocolate candies

Mmmm, chocolate.

Well, not so much if you lived around 1,900 BCE in Mesoamerica. Back then, you’d be slugging down a mix of ground cacao beans, cornmeal, and chili peppers. It was an unpleasant concoction, according to a TED Education video based on research by Deanna Pucciarelli,  associate professor of nutrition and dietetics in Ball State’s Department of Nutrition and Health Science. In fact, “chocolate” came, via the Spanish, from the Aztec word “xocolati,” or “bitter water.”

Pucciarelli’s an expert on the history of chocolate and its supply chain. She’s taken Ball State students to Ecuador to study how cacao begins its journey from beans to bars — and has gotten a grant to research chocolate. Sweet.

We gathered info from the video, took a Ted Ed quiz (also based on Pucciarelli’s research), added some independent digging, and created a tasty test. You can share these interesting nibs of information during a romantic dinner or when the topic of chocolate comes up.

To take the quiz, click ”Next“ button, below. Select the answer you think is right, and see the results.

(Opening quiz photo by Patchi, no change, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

Results

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#1 Tracking chocolate’s ties to love takes some serious time travel. Who’s said to have consumed it as an aphrodisiac?

Montezuma II evidently drank gallons of it every day for both love and energy. And remember: This was before chocolate was sweetened. (Photo by Peggy Greb, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

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#2 Whom should we thank for chocolate becoming sweet, and when did that happen?

Gracias, Cortes. When he and his men met Montezuma II (depicted above), they knelt before the Aztec emperor. After Cortes brought the gift of chocolate back to Spain, folks creatively changed it from a bitter beverage to a sweet one with some natural additives. (Library of Congress, 1878 lithograph)

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#3 What are some health benefits of dark chocolate or cocoa powder that hasn’t been Dutch processed?

The fats in dark chocolate and naturally acidic cocoa powder supply your body with antioxidants, raise blood flow to critical organs, and may lower blood pressure. While experts warn about eating too much chocolate, we note there are no daily guidelines … (Photo by Simon A. Eugster, no change, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

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#4 Is there a difference between cacao (pronounced kuh-cow’) and cocoa?

Processing makes the difference between cacao beans (before processing) and cocoa beans (after). These workers in Ecuador are shown harvesting cacao pods, processing’s first step, in stereoscope photos. Cacao comes from “cacahuatl,” a word from Mesoamerican peoples (possibly Aztec), via the Spanish. (Photo from Library of Congress, 1907)

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#5 Dr. Pucciarelli researched chocolate’s uses and history in the U.S. as part of a grant. Among her discoveries:

In Penn State University archives, Pucciarelli found writings from Revolutionary War-era Dr. Benjamin Rush, who described chocolate’s use as a treatment for smallpox. And explorer William Clark, the Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the West, wrote in 1808 about soothing a bad stomach: “I felt my Self very unwell and derected a little Chocolate which Mr. [Robert] McClellen gave us, prepared of which I drank about a pint and found great relief …” (Photo by Sebastian Koppehei, no change, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

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#6 Who used cacao beans as currency?

Aztecs thought cacao beans were more valuable than gold and used them as money, to reward the military for battle successes, in rituals, and at royal feasts. (Photo by Isai Symens, no change, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

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#7 What’s the color of a ripe cacao pod?

Depending on the type of cacao, ripe pods can be brown, green, maroon, orange, pink, purple, red, tan or yellow. Some pods are multicolored. Sadly, we lost blue. In the Amazon rainforest in 2000, scientists found rare blue cacao pods, according to Heirloom Cacao Preservation. On their return the next season, they discovered the trees had been cut down to expand grazing pastures for cattle. (Photo be pierivb via iStock)

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#8 What’s the minimum number of steps in processing cacao beans?

On a plantation near Port Limon, Costa Rica, beans and pulp are separated from inside cacao pods in the foreground (part of fermenting the beans), while other workers check the drying fermented beans. For those of us who love chocolate a bit too much, it’s appropriate that processing is (gotta say this) a 12-step program: (1) harvest pods; (2) ferment beans; (3) dry beans in the sun and rake so they don’t get sunburned; (4) sort by size; (5) roast to add taste; (6) winnow, or crack outer shell and discard; (7) grind nibs into a paste; (8) press paste to separate butter from nonalcoholic chocolate liquor; (9) add sugar, other ingredients; (10) conch (refine particles to less than 20% the width of a human hair) and temper (changes sugar crystals’ chemical structure); (11) mold chocolate; (12) package for distribution. (Photo from Library of Congress, 1904)

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#9 What country produced the most cacao beans in 2018-19?

Ivory Coast harvested 2,150 metric tons of cacao beans in 2018-19. Ghana was second with 900 metric tons. Ecuador brought in 298 metric tons, and Cameroon produced 250 metric tons. A metric ton weighs just a speck under 2,205 pounds. In Ivory Coast’s official language, as a former French colony, merci. (Photo by orenzoT81 via iStock)

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#10 Where did the U.S. rank in 2017 worldwide per-capita chocolate consumption?

The U.S. was No. 19 out of the top 24 countries, averaging 9.7 pounds of yumminess per person. Switzerland was the chocolate champ of the universe, with an average of 19.4 pounds of the divine treat melting in the mouth of each Swiss resident. America’s even behind Norway, which has fewer residents than Indiana, and almost a full pound per person in back of Russia. (Photo by Dennis Wong, Hong Kong, no change, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

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#11 Periodic chocolate scarcity concerns — tied to climate change, destructive diseases, and pests — have spurred what effort?

In Uruçuca, Brazil, local farmers discuss low bean yields with Martin Aitkin (right) of Mars, Inc. Before widespread problems from diseases such as witches’-broom and pests, this 40-by-80-foot drying platform would have been covered with harvested cacao beans. Major chocolate makers are helping cacao growers harvest more cacao pods, and by 2025, one company wants to do business only with farmers working to harvest more pods. (Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

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#12 Where do cacao pods grow?

A cacao tree grows in Bahia, Brazil. Unlike other fruit-bearing trees, trunks have a big role in growing and supporting the cacao pods that survive until harvesting. (Photo by Lyndel Meinhardt, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

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#13 In the 19th century, African slaves taken to the Caribbean and islands off Africa’s west coast produced most cacao. During the next century, demand rose as the public joined the elite in savoring chocolate, and much production shifted to Africa’s west coast. What’s a major concern tied to this change?

Despite efforts to address the human rights issue, up to 2 million child workers, plus indentured laborers, are used in this dangerous environment.

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#14 How can you tell when a cacao pod is ripe?

If you shake the pod, and you feel its innards moving around a bit, chances are it’s ripe because the beans and pulp have likely separated a bit from the husk. If it feels or sounds like a sloshy can of soup, it’s probably overripe. And if it feels solid, it’s not close to ready. You also can scratch the pod’s thin outer layer with a fingernail or knife. See a pale mellow yellow or white? Score! (Photo by Narong Khueankaew via iStock)

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#15 Disease and pests can destroy how much of a cacao crop?

                   

Diseases like witches’-broom on a cacao pod (left) can decimate from 30% to all of a crop. USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists, working with industry counterparts, discovered the fungus in 1999. Unfortunately, it still wreaks havoc on cacao trees. (Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

The black pod fungus that infects cacao pods (right) makes them rot on the tree during the last stages of ripening. (Photo by Christopher Saunders, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

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#16 If Mesoamerica, the birthplace of chocolate, were still around, where would it be?

Today, Mesoamerica would cover parts of Central America and Mexico, where indigenous cultures developed before Spain’s 16th century conquest. (Graphic by Alex Covarrubias)

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#17 A pound of chocolate requires about how many cacao beans?

About 400 cacao beans help create a pound of chocolate. A cacao pod, which is about 5 inches wide and up to 14 inches long, holds about 20-60 beans enveloped in an edible, tangy, fruity, segmented white pulp. A cacao tree can produce up to 70 pods a year, so thank a cacao tree next time you see one for your sweetie’s pound of sweets. (Photo by Bernd, no change, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

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#18 Growing cacao — the basic ingredient in the world’s favorite confection — is a livelihood for more than 6.5 million farmers in Africa, Asia, and South America. It’s also one of the world’s top 10 agricultural products. What big project is working to protect its future?

As of August 2019, the Cacao Genome Project/Cacao Genome Database had mapped 92% of the cacao tree’s genome to make research more efficient and hasten the breeding process to create more disease- and pest-resistant trees. (Photo by Keith Weller, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

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#19 What does the scientific name of cacao, Theobroma cacao, mean?

The Greek genus and species name, which means “Food of the gods,” is courtesy of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. He bequeathed the name in 1753. (Photo by dichohecho, no change, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

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