A Behind-the-Scenes Peek at the World’s Most Famous Food – CHOCOLATE

There’s no doubt that chocolate is one of the most well-known (and well-loved!) foods in the world. Whether it’s milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or even white chocolate, it seems like almost nobody can resist indulging in this “food of the gods” – we know we can’t! But have you ever really thought about how your favorite chocolate wound up on the shelf at your local supermarket or chocolate shop? Chocolate actually has a remarkable origin story that begins deep in the Amazon jungle of South America, and a lot of work has gone into transforming the beans of the ancient cacao fruit into the tasty bars of chocolate that we all know and love.

And what’s even more interesting? Chocolate is actually good for you! After all, they don’t call cacao “food of the gods” for nothing.

The story of chocolate

An ancient wonder

The true history of chocolate begins with Theobroma cacao, a tree indigenous to South and Central America that produces cacao fruit, the beans of which eventually became the chocolate that winds up on our store shelves and, ultimately, our desserts. But long before there was chocolate, there was xocolatl – the ancient Nahuatl word used to describe the “bitter water” that the Aztec and Maya used to make from the beans of the cacao fruit and drink during ritual occasions.

  • (: Fun Fact The first “chocolate house” opened in London in 1657. The London elite used to frequent chocolate houses to socialize, discuss politics, and – of course – drink chocolate.
  • Two worlds collide
    • While the indigenous civilizations of Central and South America had found many purposes for cacao – including using cacao beans as currency! – it wasn’t until the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 16th century that cacao began its transformation into the modern chocolate product that we know today. In 1519 the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes landed on the coast of what is today Mexico, and as the Spaniards began to conquer and plunder the continent in search of riches, word traveled to the Aztec emperor Montezuma II that a vessel full of men had arrived in Tenochtitlán. Possibly believing Cortés to be Quetzalcoatl – an Aztec deity who legend claimed would one day return to Tenochtitlán bearing “all the treasures of Paradise” – Montezuma II greeted Cortés and his men with gifts, including large quantities of cacao.
  • A worldwide phenomenon
    • The Spaniards took the cacao with them on further expeditions, leading to the spread of cacao trees to regions like West Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Once back in Europe, Europeans began to use sugar cane and spices cultivated in the Caribbean to sweeten and flavor the cacao, thus creating the first modern incarnations of chocolate. For decades, chocolate was reserved mainly for the European elite, who adored it for not just its taste but its health benefits – including its supposed aphrodisiac qualities. However, in keeping with its original purpose, chocolate was drunk as a beverage rather than eaten in solid form as it most often is today. 
  • The creation of a classic
    • It wasn’t until 1674 that it became possible to eat chocolate in a solid form, when the first “eating chocolate” became available in London, at a shop called The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll. By the 18th century, chocolate was available all across Europe in bars, tablets, and sticks. From that moment forward, chocolate took on a reputation as a delicacy meant for enjoyment, rather than as a primarily medicinal beverage. 

The journey from bean to bar

  • (: There’s more to cacao than just beans! Whole cacao consists of three parts, each with its own unique culinary possibilities and rich in superfood benefits. Cacao beans – the innermost part of the whole cacao fruit – are the most well-known, but the shell and the pulp are just as valuable.
  • ? A sustainable superfood A sad reality of the chocolate business is that more than 70% of the cacao fruit is wasted by cacao growers – large and small – who use only the beans and then discard the rest. Our love of whole cacao also stems from our love of the planet. By crafting recipes that make use of all three components of the whole cacao fruit, we’re able to fulfill our commitment to environmental sustainability.


  • Cleaning
    • After harvesting the beans from the interior of the cacao fruit, they are put into a machine to remove any remaining bits of shell, pulp, or other “extras”, like dust or sand, that don’t belong in the final product. 
  • Fermenting
    • The cleaned cacao beans are then left to ferment for five to seven days in large, wooden containers. The fermentation process is the first step in bringing out the strong cacao aroma of the beans.
  • Drying
    • Once fermented, the beans are spread into a single layer and dried under the sun for up to a week. The drying process prevents mold from growing on the beans, as they are often loaded into sacks for transport after this step in the process. 
  • Roasting
    • The fermented and dried cacao beans are then placed into large cylinders to be roasted, which brings out an even stronger aroma. This process typically takes around 20-30 minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and gives the cacao beans a richer, darker color. 
  • Winnowing
    • The winnowing process removes the shell from the cacao bean. The beans are crushed and lightly blown with air to remove the bits of shell. Left behind are bits of pure roasted cacao beans – these are also called cacao nibs. 
  • Grounding
    • The cacao nibs get passed through a mill and ground into a paste known as “chocolate liquor.” Once the chocolate liquor is created, the chocolate maker can then add any flavorings they deem necessary, including milk, sugar, and spices. 
  • Conching
    • Conching is the final refinement process, during which the chocolate paste is further smoothed out so as to highlight the final flavors and aromas of the chocolate
  • Tempering
    • Tempering is the process of repeatedly heating and cooling the chocolate paste so the cacao butter (the fatty content within the chocolate liquor) crystallizes, enabling the paste to become solid. It’s this temperature sensitivity that makes cacao butter so well-loved by so many – it’s solid at room temperature, yet melts easily at a body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. 

The colors of chocolate

  • (: Fun FactIn 2001, a 100-year-old bar of Cadbury chocolate that traveled with Captain Robert Scott on his first expedition to Antarctica sold at an auction for $687. The Guinness Book of World Records called it “the most valuable chocolate bar in the world.”

  • In 2019, the Belgian chocolatier Callebaut introduced a fourth color of chocolate: pink! This ruby-colored chocolate gets its color by skipping the drying and roasting processes to maintain the original color of the cacao bean. The result is a beautiful pink-hued chocolate that is popular for its pronounced fruity taste.
  • The chocolate family mainly consists of three “siblings”: milk, white, and dark chocolate. Very much like in a family, they all share the same last name and some common characteristics, but there’s also plenty that makes each one unique. Let’s dive in to what exactly this means:
  • Dark chocolate
    • FORMULA: CHOCOLATE LIQUOR + CACAO BUTTER + LITTLE TO NO SWEETENERDark chocolate, like its name indicates, is the darkest-colored chocolate there is; this is due to the fact that it does not contain any milk whatsoever. It is also the chocolate that most closely lives up to chocolate’s original moniker of “bitter water”, because dark chocolate contains little to no sweetener relative to the high amount of cacao solids. For a chocolate to be classified as “dark” in the United States, it must contain at least 50% cacao solids. That’s what the percentage on the chocolate label indicates: how much cacao is present (in solid and liquid fat form) in that particular bar. The remaining percentage is mostly sugar and other ingredients, like milk or spices.


  • Milk chocolate
    • FORMULA: CHOCOLATE LIQUOR + CACAO BUTTER + SWEETENER + MILK/ MILK POWDERMilk chocolate is lighter in color and sweeter in flavor than dark chocolate, as it contains both milk and much higher amounts of sweetener. Milk chocolate was invented fairly late in the history of chocolate by Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter, who thought it was a good idea to combine the newly innovated milk powder together with chocolate liquor – and he was absolutely right!

      Most fine milk chocolate bars contain between 30-45% cacao solids whereas milk chocolate bars of lessen quality may contain even less.

  • White chocolate
    • FORMULA: CACAO BUTTER + SWEETENER + MILK/ MILK POWDERWhite chocolate is the youngest of the chocolate siblings, and truth be told, it’s actually a little bit of a misnomer since white chocolate isn’t really chocolate at all! In reality, there are no dry cacao solids in white chocolate, just cocoa butter. The very first white chocolate bar was launched by Nestle in the 1930s.

      In the United States, white chocolate must contain at least 20% cacao butter, 14% milk solids and 3.5% milk fat. Sugars or other types of sweeteners must be limited to no more than 55% of the product itself. While it’s not the healthiest of chocolates, it is delicious – and that’s good enough for us.

Wellness Benefits of Dark Chocolate

  • ? Besides its wonderful taste and low sugar content, the health benefits of dark chocolate are numerous. In fact, it’s the only kind of chocolate that comes close to having the same health benefits of whole cacao!
  • % Let’s talk numbers

  • ? Did someone say Superfood? Like other products that come from whole cacao, cacao flour is rich in a number of health benefits that make it a true superfood.
  • Digestion
    • Dark chocolate is easy on your digestive system because it’s rich in fiber that supports gut and microbiome health.
  • Antioxidants
    • Dark chocolate is a natural anti-inflammatory, thanks to the abundance of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect against and repair the damage done to our bodies by molecules called free radicals, which are the result of exposure to things like pollution and processed foods. Free radicals damage our cells and cause inflammation and serious illness, including cancer and heart disease. That means a chocolate a day could help keep the doctor away.
  • Energy booster
    • High levels of theobromine are a healthy and sustainable source of energy that is similar to caffeine, but without the jitters and crash.
  • Mood elevator
    • Dark chocolate contains the “love drug” phenylethylamine. Not only does it enhance your mood, but it also improves your ability to focus and be alert. It also contains what is widely known as “the bliss chemical”, or anandamide, which is responsible for the high you feel after a good workout and can decrease stress levels.
  • Nutrient rich
    • Dark chocolate is a natural source of electrolytes, minerals and vitamins like different B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. It’s also rich in iron, copper and calcium. 

Whole Cacao: Questions and Answers

Cacao, the plant at the very origin of chocolate, dates back thousands of years. No one really knows when it was first discovered, but there is record of both the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations using cacao beans to make a bitter chocolate drink called xocolatl. Following Spain’s colonial conquest of Mexico in the early 16th century, cacao then spread to the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. The Spaniards likewise brought cacao to Europe and began to add sweeteners and spices from the Caribbean to create more pleasant-tasting chocolate drinks enjoyed by the European elite. Chocolate was first enjoyed in solid form starting in 1674 at a London shop called The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll.

Of course we think all chocolate is great, but the health benefits of chocolate do vary according to the kind of chocolate it is. Generally, chocolate that is higher in cacao solids and lower in sugar is the option with the most health benefits – that makes dark chocolate the healthiest overall variety of chocolate. Milk chocolate does still have cacao solids, but generally high sugar content means you’re not getting as many physical benefits, but you may still enjoy some of the mental benefits that come with eating chocolate. Since white chocolate doesn’t have any cacao solids at all – only cocoa butter – it doesn’t have the same health benefits of dark chocolate, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a delicious treat!

Cacao is a known superfood. Since dark chocolate has a high concentration of cacao solids, that means you’re getting many of the superfood health benefits of cacao. Cacao is loaded with antioxidants that help fight the damage caused to our cells by free radicals. Free radicals are the byproduct of a modern lifestyle that includes exposure to pollution and processed foods, and are thought to be the root cause of diseases like cancer and heart disease. Cacao is also rich in the essential nutrients potassium and magnesium, which help support both the nervous, cardiovascular, and muscular systems. Finally, cacao is also a great source of theobromine, which is a natural energy-booster that is non-addictive and does not induce any negative side effects like jitters or energy crashes.

Though some people may think the percentage of cacao listed on the label of a bar of chocolate is an indicator of the quality of the chocolate, that’s not necessarily the case (though it can sometimes be). Those percentages indicate the percentage of cacao in that particular bar, versus other additives like milk or sweetener. The higher the percentage, the more cacao solids there are – that’s what makes dark chocolate a healthier alternative to milk chocolate, which contains way less cacao solids. To know you’re getting a bar with more health benefits, start with a chocolate that advertises at least 70% cacao on the label.