I love chocolate. I bet you do, too. It seems to be the treat for everything: chocolate hearts for Valentine’s Day, chocolate bunnies at Easter, chocolates for Mother’s Day, and chocolate bars for summertime s’mores. Oh, and let’s not forget chocolate chips, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate milk, brownies….need I go on? Even though chocolate is a mainstay in American culture, it’s not popular everywhere. There are even chocolate secrets that may change your mind about this delicious treat. First, let’s talk a little bit about where chocolate comes from.
Where chocolate grows and more
According to Chocolate.org, the word “chocolate” can be traced to the Aztec word xocoatl, which referred to a bitter drink made from cacao beans. The beans come from the tree, Theobroma cacao, which means “food of the gods.” So, the origins of chocolate go back about 4,000 years, originating in Central and South American among the Olmecs first. Then, the Mayans and the Aztecs. They would pick the large fruits, called pods, from the cacao tree. Then, they would remove the beans, roast them, and grind them into a powder. Next, they added a bit of water to make a thick, bitter drink. They believed it was a gift from the gods.
A few years ago, I got to try this drink. I was on a chocolate tour in Chicago. As part of the tour, we got to sample raw cacao beans and sample the Aztec drink. Personally, I don’t know how they could stomach that drink. It’s more bitter than coffee, which also grows in those regions! If you want to try it, get some unsweetened baker’s chocolate and bite off a tiny piece.
From ancient drink to modern treat
So, how did chocolate go from a bitter Aztec drink to what we see today? Well, the story goes that a Spanish explorer, maybe Cortes, brought it back to the Spanish nobility in the early 1500’s. Somehow, the Spanish managed to keep the chocolate secrets for several decades and only the rich and the nobility enjoyed it. But, eventually, chocolate secrets spread to neighboring France and across the channel to England.
And, of course, the European aristocracy added sugar to the chocolate. For nearly two centuries, it remained the rich man’s treat because it was expensive to produce. But, the Industrial Revolution changed all that. Now, we have all sorts of varieties of chocolate, including white, milk, and dark. However, the only healthy chocolate, “the gift of the gods,” is dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa solids.
5 Chocolate Secrets You Didn’t Know
Most modern chocolate is grown in Africa, not Latin America.
It’s true. According to Food Empowerment Project, 70% of today’s chocolate is grown in West African countries. And, this chocolate is sold to the largest chocolate companies–Hershey, Nestle, and Mars. In addition, many investigative reporters have exposed these cacao farms as using child labor and slavery with the support of their countries’ governments. This is because, of course, the corrupt governments profit greatly from doing business with these large chocolate companies. That’s why those checkout counter chocolate bars are so cheap! Personally, I never buy those chocolate bars and I would strongly encourage you to boycott them, too.
Most chocolate grown without the use of child labor or slavery is grown in Latin America. In addition, organic and fair trade chocolate usually comes from these farms. That’s why they cost more. But, they are also higher quality and you can feel good supporting fair wages.
Too much chocolate can be toxic
Here’s one of those chocolate secrets you may know something about if you have pets. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine that can kill your pets. That’s right. Don’t ever give chocolate to your dog or cat. Even if they don’t die, they will get very sick. After all, in large amounts, theobromine can make people sick, too. This threshold amount is approximately 100g (3.5 oz.) of chocolate. In other words, a large bar of dark chocolate. At this amount, some people have reported nausea, sweating, trembling, and severe headache, like migraines. So, be careful.
Most of time, theobromine is a mild stimulant affecting the smooth muscles, causing an increase in heart rate while dilating blood vessels. It is also a mild diuretic and contrary to popular thought, has not been shown to affect mood. I would contend that it is the sweetness, not the chocolate, that affects mood. This emotional eating stems from the association between sweets and the brain’s reward center.
Have you ever stashed your chocolate bar in a secret place to hide it from the kids…and then forgot about it? Maybe you find it again when you clean out the cabinets and when you open it up, yuck! There’s this white film all over your chocolate bar. Then, you might think to yourself, What a waste! Now I have to throw it out. Don’t do it, my friend. That chocolate isn’t bad, it just has fat or sugar blooms all over the outer surface.
You see, chocolate with higher fat and/or sugar content (a.k.a. milk chocolate especially) isn’t completely solid. The fat and/or sugar moves around a little bit within the microscopic pores in the chocolate. If you keep it around long enough at room temperature, this fat and/or sugar finds its way to the surface. This is what creates the white, waxy film on the outside of the chocolate bar. While it may not look good, it’s edible. So, don’t throw out that old chocolate bar. But, maybe it would be better to eat it instead of stashing it next time.
Chocolate secrets in nutrition
Chocolate is an important source of iron
That’s right! That big bar of dark chocolate described above might give you a headache, but it also gives you 67% of the RDI for iron! In addition, it contains pretty significant amounts of copper, magnesium, and manganese and is also an important source of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. So, what does that mean? We may not hear about these minerals all that much, but they have important roles in our bodies. For example, magnesium plays a role in muscle relaxation, enzyme activation in the cells to help us use carbohydrates and amino acids, and helps us absorb and use other vitamins and minerals. Another example is the importance of zinc in helping us fight disease, build insulin, make DNA, heal wounds, and regulate testosterone. Who knew that chocolate had so many essential minerals?
Chocolate holds the record for antioxidants
Of all foods tested, the cacao bean has the highest levels of antioxidants. Surprising, huh? It is rich in flavanols and polyphenols, containing more than even blueberries. These antioxidants are super important because they keep us young, prevent tumors, lower inflammation, and fight infection. However, the only way to get enough antioxidants is by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, most of us don’t really eat enough of them. But, we sure love chocolate! So, eating more dark chocolate might help.
Did you learn something new about chocolate? The next time you bite into that yummy richness, remember all the benefits it offers. And, make sure it’s fair trade.
Valentine’s Day Resources Curated for You!
To help you celebrate Valentine’s Day, one of the most chocolate rich holidays of the year, I went looking for some great activities for you. I’ve divided them into non-craft activities, crafts and fun book/writing type activities, and of course, treats! Why not invite a friend or two, or maybe another entire family, and enjoy Valentine’s Day together?
Units and Activities
10+ Awesome Valentine’s Day STEM Activities for Kids from Hess Un-Academy
Thank you, Charlene! Charlene has scoured the web and found some unusual and fun Valentine-themed STEM activities. Just click on the ones that sound interesting to you! Then, you’ll get the supply list and instructions. These activities are great for kids ages 6+.
Valentine’s Day Unit Study from The WOLFe Pack
Kids will LOVE this Valentine’s Day Unit Study because it’s filled with fun ways to enjoy this special day. And Mom is sure to LOVE it too since it’s chock-full of educational opportunities!
The History of Valentine’s Traditions from Homeschool on the Range
Learn the history behind our Valentine’s Day traditions!
Love songs from Musicals from Music in Our Homeschool
Do a quick 15-minute music lesson for Valentine’s Day while listening to some of the greatest ever love songs from musicals.
Crafts and Books
DIY Felt Fortune Cookies Valentine’s Day Craft + free Valentine printable from Making Room 4 One More
Abby has created a fun craft activity for a family or a group of families to enjoy. She offers simple instructions and a supply list for this easy to make craft. Make a basket of these little fortune cookies with mystery messages and make a game of it! For ages 5+.
Absolutely love this for the older kids and teens. These are so beautiful, I’d hang them year round! Make nice Christmas ornaments, too! For ages 10+.
Inspire Creativity in Your Children + Gnome Writing Prompts from In All You Do
If you don’t know about writing prompts, Annette will tell you all about it! But, in a nutshell, they give a stumped child an idea to write about. This pack offers a cute twist appropriate for Valentine’s. It’s a pretty big pack, so there’s enough for all the kids to give it a try. Maybe they’ll come up with some great new stories! For ages 7+.
Valentine’s Day Language Arts Resources for Homeschooling Families from Whole Child Homeschool
This amazing resources page offers Valentine-themed language arts activities for the entire family. So, it’s a one stop shop if you want to visit and grab something for everyone.
27 Valentine’s Day Books for Kids from Heart and Soul Homeschooling
This is super fun! My kids are too old for this collection of picture books, but the use of picture books was a favorite of mine. Did you even know that there were 27 books about Valentine’s Day? Make sure you put a hold on these books at your library before they’re all reserved.
Story Time: Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch from Orison Orchards
If you’d rather do a few activities around one specific book, this is a great choice. She includes some literature activities and a yummy snack, too. It’s a beautiful book, so don’t miss it.
Snacks and Treats
Make Some Easy Sweetheart Popcorn For Valentine’s Day from Our Crazy Adventures in Autismland
After reading this recipe, it’s a no brainer why it’s called Sweetheart Popcorn. Lots of melted candy and of course, popcorn. The kids will love it!
How to Have a Valentine’s Day Homeschool Party from Everyday Graces Homeschool
I encourage you to consider doing this, even on a small scale. Invite one family with whom you’re close and have a small party to celebrate God’s love and your friendship.
Valentine’s Chocolate Pudding Cream Cheese Frosting from Homegrown Motherhood
Valentine’s Chocolate Pudding Cream Cheese Frosting – have the kids help make a fun and easy 5-minute frosting for their favorite Valentine dessert!
5 Valentine’s Day Snacks that Teach About God’s Love from Stand Up, Reach Out
Whisk in some Faith lessons with your Valentine’s day goodies! These 5 low-prep, easy snacks teach kids how to love God and others (and they’re so simple, your kids can make them on their own next week!)
15 Fast and Fun Valentine’s Day Snacks for Kids from Thrive at Home
“Looking for a fun, fast, Valentine’s Day snack for your kids that won’t take a ton of prep time? Here are 15 of our favorites.”