Everyone knows this sweet treat. When certain holidays such as Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter are approaching, store shelves are full of chocolate yumminess. It's an almost universal gift of appreciation.
The word "chocolate" is thought to derive from an Aztec word meaning "bitter drink". The food as we know it is actually a processed and sweetened concoction derived from the beans of the cacao tree that is native to Central and South America. The beans are very bitter and must be fermented in order to unlock their flavour.
After the beans are fermented they are dried and roasted, their shells removed, and finally ground up. This is pure chocolate in its rough form. Afterwards it is processed in various ways to get the different varieties of chocolate that we are more familiar with.
When the process was discovered by the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century it very quickly made its way to Europe. For a long time only the rich could afford it, but at the advent of the Industrial Revolution, mechanization made it easier to produce greater quantities for commoners.
Why do people love the stuff so much? Cocoa has been found to contain chemicals that affect the body and the brain in pleasant ways. Some research shows that moderate consumption can lower blood pressure and give other benefits.
Sadly, not everyone is able to enjoy it. An estimated 1 out of 500 people can't eat chocolate because they are allergic to one of the components. Also, one of the naturally occurring chemicals in it is toxic to household pets. So think twice before giving your dog that chocolate cookie.
As for me, I'm somewhat of a chocaholic. If there is any in the house I'll have one or two pieces a day if I can get away with it.