If you're planning to celebrate Valentine's Day by giving someone a box of chocolates, you'll be participating in a popular tradition. According to the National Confectioners Association, 83% of Americans typically share candy with someone on Valentine's Day, and 75% of the time, that candy is chocolate.
Chocolate is made from beans produced by cacao trees. The Latin designation for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacoa, and the term "theobroma" means "food of the gods." Cacao trees grow in tropical regions of South America, Africa, and Asia. Cacao beans grow in pods produced by the trees. A cacao pod can contain twenty to fifty beans, and a cacao tree can produce twenty to thirty pods a year. According to Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, "It takes 500 beans to make one pound of chocolate, so each tree produces anywhere from one to three pounds of chocolate." Worldwide, the consumption of chocolates and other cocoa products (products made from cacao beans) totals about three million tons per year.
Making chocolate is a complicated process. After pods are harvested, beans are collected, fermented, dried, and roasted. A paste is made from the roasted product which is then liquified and processed. Unsweetened cocoa powder used for baking has a bitter taste. Sweetened chocolate candy items contain added fats and sugars.
The original version of this article appeared in the February 2016 issue of Observations: A Pier Press® Newsletter. It included links to additional resources about the cocoa industry, the health benefits of chocolate, and ongoing research. You can access the archived issue here, and if you're not already a subscriber, click here to sign up. It's free.