Easter Fun

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One Little Rabbit



Learn About Chocolate

As a food and a flavoring, chocolate is widely popular. People everywhere enjoy chocolate candies, pastries, and drinks. Chocolate was brought to Europe by the Spaniards, who learned its use from the Aztecs at the time of the invasion by the Spanish adventurer Hernán Cortés in 1519. It was introduced into England about 1657. In the U.S., chocolate was first manufactured at Milton Lower Mills, near Dorchester, Mass., in 1765. In the early 1990s, annual U.S. production of chocolate and related confections exceeded 1.2 million metric tons. Annual consumption in the U.S. was about 5.1 kg (11.3 lb) per capita.


Chocolate is made from the seeds, or beans, of the tropical cacao tree. The processing of the cacao seeds, better known as cocoa beans, is complex. The beans grow inside leathery pods that are found both on the trunk and on the branches of the tree. Workers cut the pods from the tree trunks with large heavy knives called machetes and from the branches with long-handled knives. The purple or creamy-white beans are shelled from the pod, which is about the size of a small cucumber.

At this stage the bean has a raw bitter taste. As the first step in the long process of making appetizing chocolate, the beans are piled in bins for several days. Bacterial action causes them to take on a rich brown color and the fragrance of chocolate. After several more days they become dry enough to prevent spoilage, and they are bagged for shipment. When they arrive at the factory, the beans are roasted in large rotating machines. This improves the flavor still more and dries the shells of the beans so that they can be easily removed in the next machine, the cracker and fanner.

Here the beans are cracked, and fans blow away the brittle shells, leaving the nibs, or meat. The nibs are the part used for making chocolate products. The shells are saved for use in fertilizer or as feed for cattle. About 50 percent of the nibs is made up of a fatty substance known as cocoa butter.

In the next stage large grinding stones or heavy steel disks crush the nibs, creating frictional heat that melts the butter. The hard parts of the nibs are ground to powder. The result is a smooth, dark-brown liquid known as chocolate liquor.

When poured into molds, the liquid hardens into cakes of unsweetened chocolate, which are used in cooking. To produce cocoa powder the warm liquor is pumped into a filter press. Pressure exerted by a pump forces much of the cocoa butter, a yellow liquid, through the pores of a strong filter cloth. The filter cloth holds back a light brown cake of solid particles, which is then ground and sifted to form cocoa powder.

Chocolate for eating is made by adding cocoa butter to chocolate liquor. For sweet, or dark, chocolate finely powdered sugar is added. For milk chocolate a third ingredient, milk, is included. Various flavorings may also be added. These mixtures go through a set of rollers that reduces them to a paste. Next, more machines with heavy rollers knead the chocolate mass for periods ranging from a few hours to several days. This process, called conching, makes the rather gritty mixture very smooth. Varying the temperature in the machines and the movement of the rollers produces variations in flavor. Finally the chocolate is tempered, or heated to a high temperature. This reduces the size of large fat crystals and gives the chocolate a velvety quality. The chocolate is poured into molds by automatic machinery.

Cocoa butter is sold separately for other purposes. When solid, it is white and pleasant tasting. Baking firms may use it instead of regular butter. It is also an ingredient of soaps and complexion creams.


Chocolate was for many centuries enjoyed chiefly as a beverage. Its popularity began in the Americas where the cacao tree grew wild. In the early 1500s when Hernando Cortez conquered Mexico, the Aztec emperor Montezuma served him a drink called chocolatl. Cortez brought the beverage back to Spain. With sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon added to sweeten the bitter drink, it became a favorite with the Spanish aristocracy.

In the 1600s the drink won popularity among the upper classes in France and England. In 1753 the botanist Carolus Linnaeus gave the cacao tree the botanical name Theobroma, meaning food of the gods. In the 1800s the processes for making smooth, tasty eating chocolate were invented. This increased the popularity of chocolate products further. Today the chocolate industry in the United States is a big one, absorbing more than one fourth of the world production of cacao beans. Other important manufacturing countries are Germany, The Netherlands, Great Britain, and France.


One pound (0.45 kilogram) of sweet milk chocolate contains nearly 2,500 calories, almost twice as many as a pound of beef or a dozen eggs. Cocoa has a high food value, containing as much as 20 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrate, and 40 percent fat. About half the composition of milk chocolate is carbohydrate and about one third is fat.

Chocolate contains a small amount of theobromine, which is an alkaloid similar to the caffeine found in tea and coffee. The stimulant properties of theobromine may account for some of chocolate's popularity. In some sensitive people the theobromine content can produce the same effects as caffeine alertness, elevated mood, depression of appetite, and increased mental and physical energy. Too much consumption of chocolate can cause insomnia and tremors.


African countries harvest about two-thirds of the total world output; Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, and Cameroon are the leading African cocoa producers. Most of the remainder comes from South American countries, chiefly Brazil and Ecuador. The crop is traded on international commodity futures markets. Attempts by producing countries to stabilize prices through international agreements have had little success.


1) Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, 1995

2) Funk & Wagnalls Knowlegde Center