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chocolateNancy Kelley, Hopkins County Extension agent for Family & Consumer Services explains the tasty benefits and history of chocolate at the "We Love Chocolate" event Friday, Feb. 14. (Photo by Amber Averitt)MADISONVILLE, Ky. (2/14/14) — On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate a year, per person, which ranks America 10th among all countries who partake in the consumption of chocolate.

“Chocolate has a very rich history,” said Nancy Kelley, Hopkins County Extension agent for Family & Consumer Sciences. “The Swiss eat about 36 to 40 pounds of chocolate per person, per year, making Switzerland the leading country of consumption of chocolate.”

Kelly gave a presentation on chocolate to those attending the “We Love Chocolate,” event Friday, Feb. 14 at the Hopkins County Extension Office in Madisonville.

The ancient Mayans of Mexico and Central America have been consuming and enjoying chocolate many years before the rest of the world was introduced. They made spicy drinks used in rituals and ceremonies, and valued the cocoa seeds as money.

In the 16th century, while the Spanish were searching for gold, they stumbled upon cocoa, which they found to be bitter tasting, but mixed with some sugar, it was well kept secret for nearly 100 years before the rest of Europe found out. The English, Dutch and French became so enamored by chocolate that they set out to colonize cocoa growing lands and built systems of forced labor and slavery.

By the late 17th and 18th centuries, Italians began to experiment with chocolate as a flavor in everything from polenta to soups. The cocoa press was first developed in 1828 to extract the cocoa butter from chocolate, leaving the cocoa powder behind. Later, the French would become known for their crafty skills with chocolate in the most decadent desserts.

In 1847, the very first solid piece of chocolate was introduced in England.

Then in 1868, Richard Cadbury introduced the first Valentine’s Day candy boxed chocolates

Shortly after, the Nestle family of Switzerland developed milk chocolate.

By 1893, Milton Hershey built a chocolate factory in the hills of southern Pennsylvania and become the “Henry Ford” of chocolate makers.

Chocolate products are made from cocoa solids, liquor and butter in various proportions. The taste is developed by fermenting, drying and shelling the cocoa bean. The nibs are then grounded into a cocoa liquor, which is then processed into cocoa butter and solids.

There are different types and variations of chocolate:

  • White chocolate contains no cocoa liquor, but is a concoction of cocoa butter, milk, solids, sugar and flavoring.
  • Milk chocolate is mild and sweet due to the addition of sugar, dried milk and cocoa butter.
  • Dark chocolate does not contain milk solids and can contain up to 70 percent cocoa. It is made by adding fat and sugar to cocoa liquor and butter.
  • Bittersweet chocolate, contains less sugar and more chocolate liquor than semi-sweet, but can be used interchangeably. They contain various amounts of chocolate liquor, sugar cocoa butter and vanilla.
  • Unsweet, bitter, or baking chocolate is pure chocolate liquor with no added sugar or any other ingredients.
  • Cocoa powder is made by finely grounding cocoa beans.

Through the ages, chocolate has been known to be an aphrodisiac, but has other health benefits such as containing antioxidants to lower LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and help reduce blood platelet aggression.

The amount of the compounds is determined by the type and the way chocolate is processed.

“What some people don’t know is that the darker the chocolate is, the more chocolate it contains,” said Kelley. “That’s where are the health benefits are. The things that we add to the chocolate is what makes it unhealthy.”

Chocolate is also known to improve insulin resistance, improve mood and pleasure by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. When chocolate is consumed in moderation, it can be beneficial to one’s health.

“The antioxidants that chocolate contains helps with protecting us from heart disease,” said Kelley. “It lowers our LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood clotting. It is a plant based food and we know that these plants have health benefits.”

Amber Averitt
SurfKY News Reporter
Photo by Amber Averitt

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