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By: Child Prodigy Peleh Wunder

The history of chocolateextends back over a thousand years, to the ancient Mayan culture. The Maya, and later the Aztecs, who lived in Mexico and South and Central America, took cocoa beans, the seeds from the pod-likae fruit of the cacao tree, and ground them to make a bitter, frothy chocolate drink flavored with various spices like vanilla or chili pepper. This drink was highly prized. In the 1500s, Spanish explorers brought the cacao tree’s fruit back home with them from Mexico and introduced it to Europe. The Europeans sweetened their ground cacao with sugar, and it became a very popular drink for them as well, remaining so for the next several hundred years.

In 1828, a Dutchman named Conrad van Houten paved the way for the modern chocolate bar when he invented a hydraulic press that squeezed a vegetable fat out of ground cocoa beans. This fat, which had the taste and smell of cocoa, was termed “cocoa butter.” It was soon discovered that when cocoa butter is added to unpressed chocolate (along with ingredients like milk and sugar), it creates a creamy, solid form
of chocolate.

Making chocolate is a complex process. It starts in the equatorial rainforest, where the cacao tree grows up to thirty feet high, shaded by 150-foot-tall rainforest trees. The trees produce pods filled with a white pulp and seeds, which we know as cocoa beans. These pods are harvested by hand and opened with machetes to extract the beans, which are then fermented under a blanket of banana leaves. Fermentation removes the rest of the pulp from the beans and alters the beans’ flavor. The beans are then spread in the sun to dry for several days.

The dried beans are brought to a chocolate factory, where they are roasted to just the right flavor. During roasting, the inside of the bean shrinks away from the hull; during the next step, winnowing, the hull is cracked and blown away, leaving just the inner part, called the nib. Next, the nibs are ground into a chocolate paste, which will either have the cocoa butter pressed out of it to make cocoa powder, or will have additional cocoa butter and other ingredients added to it to make chocolate.

If chocolate is being made, the mixture is passed through many different refining machines to knead it into a smooth texture. Then it is placed into molds. As the chocolate solidifies, it contracts slightly, pulling away from the sides of the mold, making it easy to remove, wrap, ship, and sell!

Chocolate Coins

At one time, cacao beans were even used as money in the Aztec economy!

Types of Chocolate

There are many different kinds of chocolate.
Which type is your favorite?

Dark Chocolate has the most cocoa in it and little or no milk.

Milk Chocolate, as its name implies, has milk in it and less cocoa.

White Chocolate isn’t really chocolate at all! It contains cocoa butter, but no cocoa.

Unsweetened, Bittersweet, and Semi-sweet Chocolate are all forms of dark chocolate with different amounts of sugar added. Unsweetened chocolate has no sugar added to it and is usually used in baking where the recipe also calls for sugar.

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