55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Planetarium will be closed Sep. 22, 23, 24

Exhibit Archive


Open June 11 - September 5, 2005

Chocolate and its national tour were developed by The Field Museum, Chicago. This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

Begin in the rainforest, where you'll meet a colony of 80,000 live Leaf Cutter ants, and explore the unique cacao tree whose seeds started it all. A beautiful tree with delicate flowers, cacao is found only within 20° latitude (about 1,380 miles) of the equator. Usually about 12-25 feet tall, it grows naturally in the rainforest understory, in the shade of larger canopy trees. It is pollinated by tiny flies called midges, which thrive in the decaying leaf litter of the rainforest floor and tend to stay close to the ground, so its flowers grow directly on the trunk and lower branches. After these flowers are pollinated, pineapple-sized cacao pods grow in their place. Each pod holds about 30-50 cacao seeds - enough to make about seven milk chocolate bars or two dark chocolate bars.

Next, visit the ancient Maya civilization and discover what chocolate meant nearly 1,500 years ago. Examine ceramic vessels that were used by Maya kings as chocolate cups, learn about the spicy drink that filled them, and see how archaeological evidence helped scientists trace the roots of chocolate back to the early Maya. Travel north and forward in time to meet the Aztecs, who acquired cacao through extensive trade networks and used the precious seeds as a form of currency. Explore an interactive Aztec marketplace, and learn the purchasing power of a handful of seeds.

Finally, follow chocolate's introduction into the upper class of European society and its transformation into a mass-produced world commodity. Find out what happened when chocolate first met sugar, trace the ups and downs of chocolate in the world market, and learn about the sustainable cacao-growing practices that can help protect the world's rainforests. If all that sets your mouth to watering, visit the Academy Store, where you can find a wide selection of delectable chocolate treats, or plan your visit for a Friday or Saturday afternoon – chocolate product tastings and demonstrations will take place every Friday and Saturday from June 11 – August 27. Chocolate is a sweet experience for all ages!

Chocolate Facts...

  • Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree that are roasted, husked, and ground (without removing the fat) and often sweetened (with sugar) and flavored (with vanilla).
  • The Aztecs prepared a drink that contained chocolate, water, chili, achiote (a natural coloring), cinnamon, and vanilla.  It is said that Montezuma drank 50 goblets of this bitter beverage each day.
  • Hernando Cortez brought cacao back to Europe but it was not well received.  Later when Europeans deleted the spices and added sugar, the popularity of chocolate as a beverage soared.
  • Cacao vs. cocoa – Cacao refers to the tree (Theobroma cacao) from which chocolate products are obtained.  Cocoa is the beverage.
  • Roasting gives the cacao beans that distinctive chocolate flavor.  Beans are roasted at 250-300° F.
  • The chocolate beverage that we know today was first put on sale in Oxford, England in 1660.
  • In 1828, a Dutchman by the name of Coenraad van Houten developed what we know as cocoa by removing large amounts of cocoa butter from cacao to make a dry powder.
  • Milk chocolate is the most popular kind of chocolate.  It consists of 50% sugar, 35% milk solids, and 15% cocoa solids.
  • Dark chocolate contains about 55% sugar and 45% cocoa solids.
  • White chocolate is made from sugar, cocoa butter, dry milk solids, and flavoring.
  • Chocolate literally does melt in your mouth.  Dark chocolate starts to melt at about 93° F. Milk chocolate melts at slightly lower temperatures.
  • The chocolate chip cookie was discovered by accident when Ruth Wakefield (an American) was preparing chocolate cookies.  She neglected to melt the lumps of chocolate first, thinking they would melt during baking but they didn’t.  No one complained about the results.
  • The white film or bloom that can sometimes be found on chocolate forms when chocolate is exposed to heat.  The heat causes some of the fat in chocolate to melt and rise to the surface but it does not spoil the flavor or quality of chocolate.
  • About 3 billion pounds of chocolate are consumed worldwide each year.
  • The flavor of milk chocolate begins to deteriorate after about 6 months.
  • The flavor of dark chocolate improves with time for up to 18 to 24 months.
  • Europe imports almost 1.4 million tons of cacao beans each year, over 60% of the world market.
  • Carob is the only thing that approaches a chocolate alternative.  It is made from the beans of the carob tree which is native to the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East but it is commonly grown as a street tree in California.
  • If you enjoy the aroma of chocolate you will enjoy the "chocolate plant", Cosmos atrosanguineus, a sunflower relative which has flowers that have a slightly spiced chocolate aroma that intensifies at dusk.  This plant is native to Mexico.
  • Nine out of ten people like chocolate.  It is said that the tenth person probably lies!
 Chocolate Exhibit Home »
 Chocolate Facts »
 Chocolate Health Facts »
 Chocolate Recipes »
 Chocolate Public Programs »

  Chocolate: The Exhibition
  box of chocolates

A wide variety of chocolates and chocolate-related products will be available in the Academy store, including chocolates from local vendors; organic and fair trade chocolates; chocolate incense, body frosting, scented soaps, lip gloss, and candles; chocolate books and cookbooks; Mexican clay chocolate pots, and much more. Photo: The Field Museum.

  Leafcutter ants.

Above, leafcutter ants. The Chocolate exhibit explores the rainforest environment where cacao trees grow. This part of the exhibit is brought to life at the Academy by a colony of 80,000 Leaf Cutter ants, which harvest leaves from the rainforest (including cacao leaves!) and use them to cultivate gardens of fungus. Photo: Dong Lin, California Academy of Sciences.

  cacao beans
  Cacao trees grow in tropical rain forests under the canopy of taller trees. Each cacao tree produces dozens of football-sized pods that are filled with a thick, juicy, whitish pulp. In the center of the pods are up to 50 pale, almond-sized seeds. The seeds are fermented, dried, roasted, shelled and crushed to a paste to make chocolate. Photo: California Academy of Sciences.
  green cacao pod
  green cocoa pods
  Above, green cacao pods.
Below, cacao tree illustration.
  cocoa tree illustration