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Exhibit Archive
  Chocolate: The Exhibition
  green cocoa pods

To make chocolate, cacao seeds are roasted at 400–500 °F for 15–20 minutes. This brings out the luscious chocolate flavor and aroma. Roasted cacao seeds then pass through a machine that cracks their shell and removes their skin. What’s left are the nibs—tasty bits that eventually become chocolate. Credit: The Field Museum.

  green cocoa pods

Many people in Latin American countries still grind cacao seeds by hand just like the Maya and Aztec did for hundreds of years – using a stone mano and metate. Photo: The Field Museum.

  cocoa tree illustration

To create froth atop their chocolate drink, the Spaniards invented wooden stirring sticks called molinillos. Chocolate drinkers rolled a molinillo quickly between their hands to whip a pot of chocolate into a bubbly froth. These utensils are still used today in Latin America and Spain. Photo: The Field Museum.

  green cocoa pods

Before chocolate was a sweet candy, it was a spicy drink. Some of the earliest known chocolate drinkers were the ancient Maya of Central America. Because chocolate was so important to them, they made offerings to a special God of chocolate, Ek Chuah, who protected their cacao tree fields. Image: California Academy of Sciences.



About Cacao Trees

  • The seed pods of the cacao tree grow not on branches but directly on the trunk.
  • Each pod is about the size of a pineapple and holds thirty to fifty seeds – enough to make about seven milk chocolate or two dark chocolate bars.
  • Cacao flowers are pollinated by midges, tiny flies that live in the rotting leaves and other debris that fall to the forest floor at the base of the tree. Those midges have the fastest wingbeats in the world: 1,000 times per second!
  • Cacao trees today are endangered by natural threats, such as the witch’s broom fungus and other diseases and pests. Along with the rest of the rainforest, they’re also threatened by lumber companies, which harvest the taller trees that shelter the cacao and help maintain the population of midges.
  • Cacao seeds are not sweet. They contain the chemicals caffeine and theobromine, which give them a bitter taste.
  • The scientific genus name of the cacao tree, Theobroma, means "food of the gods."
  • Cacao is not related to the coconut palm or to the coca plant, the source of cocaine.
  • Africa now provides over half the world’s cacao, while Mexico now provides only 1.5%.


Chocolate as food and medicine
  • It takes 4 cacao seeds to make 1 ounce of milk chocolate, and 12 seeds to make 1 ounce of dark chocolate.
  • Although we tend to think of chocolate as a solid today, for 90% of its history it was consumed in liquid form.
  • Some of the earliest European cocoa-makers were apothecaries seeking medicinal uses.
  • Cacao seeds contain significant amounts of naturally occurring flavonoids, substances also found in red wine, green tea, and fruits and vegetables; flavonoids are connected with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
  • On the other hand, chocolate carries a heavy load of saturated fats and calories; there are much healthier ways to get the same benefits.
  • Chocolate contains two stimulants also found in coffee – caffeine and theobromine – but in relatively small amounts. Fifty M&Ms, for example, have about as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.

Who eats chocolate?

  • Not Africans. A great deal of chocolate is grown in Africa, but mostly for export.
  • Not a lot of Asians. Although chocolate’s popularity is growing in China and Japan, there’s still comparatively little chocolate culture in Asia. The Chinese, for example, eat only one bar of chocolate for every 1,000 eaten by the British.
  • Mexicans consume chocolate more as a traditional drink and a spice than as a candy. They use it to make a wonderful sauce called mole, and offer chocolate drinks at wedding ceremonies and birthday parties.
  • Americans for sure… an average of 12 pounds per person per year. In 1998, that came to a total of 3.3 billion pounds. (Americans spend $13 billion a year on chocolate.)
  • Definitely Europeans! As far back as the late 1700s, the people of Madrid, Spain consumed nearly 12 million pounds of chocolate a year. Today, 15 of the 16 leading per-capita chocolate-consuming countries are in Europe, with Switzerland leading the pack. (The U.S., as of 1998, was #9.)
For the love of chocolate…the chocolate of love
  • Does chocolate stimulate the libido? Chemists can’t prove it, but popular culture is reluctant to give up the belief…
  • As far back as the 1000 CE, frothy chocolate drinks were exchanged at weddings in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and parts of Central America).
  • Casanova is said to have eaten chocolate to enhance his love-making.
  • The Marquis de Sade also was passionate about chocolate, and had his wife send it to him in prison.
  • Why else do Americans exchange chocolate on Valentine’s Day?


A Quiz for Those Who Think They Know Their Chocolate

Q. Cacao grows best:

  • Under the shade of taller trees
  • In cleared areas, in plenty of sun
  • On hillsides

A. Under the shade of taller, canopy trees.


Q. Which country grows the most cacao today?

  • Mexico
  • Indonesia
  • Ivory Coast

A. Ivory Coast . The livelihood of half the country’s people is directly or indirectly tied to cacao production.


Q. Which country processes the most cacao?

  • Switzerland
  • The Netherlands
  • Belgium

A. The Netherlands . But they consume a bit less, per capita, than the U.S.


Q. Which country consumes the most chocolate per capita?

  • The U.S.
  • Switzerland
  • Mexico

A. The Swiss – more than 24 pounds per person per year.


Q. Who was the Baby Ruth candy bar named for?

  • President Grover Cleveland’s daughter
  • The granddaughter of the company’s president
  • The baseball player

A. All three answers have been suggested, but the fact is, no one knows for sure.


Q. What fictional character said, "Life is like a box of chocolates…"?

  • Willy Wonka
  • Forrest Gump
  • Pollyanna

A. Forrest Gump

Q. For which holiday do Americans spend the most on candy?

  • Valentine’s Day
  • Easter
  • Mother’s Day

A. Valentine’s Day – about $1 billion!


Q. Theobromine, a substance found in cacao, is used to treat what medical problem?

  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • High blood pressure

A. High blood pressure; it dilates the arteries.


Q. What are cacao seeds traded on the world market today are called?

  • Cacao
  • Cocoa
  • Coca

A. Cocoa

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