Chocolate is one of the most popular flavors in the world. It is added to innumerable sweet dishes and even a few savory ones. The history of chocolate reveals that the cacao plant originated in Venezuela. Its cultivation spread up through Central America with the Mayan Indians. They created a drink from crushing the beans and mixing the powder with hot water. The Aztecs adopted this practice. When Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere, it was some time before they came to appreciate chocolate.

a piece of chocolate candy

Chocolate has a load of health benefits. Due to high quantities of epicatechin it is thought to be able to fend off a host of diseases from heart trouble to diabetes and cancer. It also contains theobromine which is a mild stimulant that gives off a mild sense of well-being. It can also supress coughs. Theobromine can actually be dangerous to dogs, horses, and household pets because it is not well-processed in their systems.

There are three major varieties of trees from which the cocoa beans from chocolate are harvested, Forestero, Crillo, and their hybrid, Trinitero. Different varieties of chocolate including dark, milk and white chocolates, all come from the same plants. However, the differences come into play because of the different ways of processing chocolate. Beans are harvested, fermented, dried, and roasted, then crushed. A paste is formed, which is then pressed to separate solids from fats (called cocoa butter). The amount of cocoa butter added back to the solids along with other additives (such as milk) makes the differences in types of chocolates.

Chocolate can be used in recipes in many forms. Cocoa powder is common. Because it is just about pure flavor, rather like a spice, recipes can be adjusted for sweetness as well as for fat content. Unsweetened chocolate is popular as well, although it will contain cocoa butter. Chocolate can come in chips, flakes, bars, and even a liquid form. In finished form, it can be added to ice cream and used as a dip. To melt chocolate, the best method is to use a double boiler.

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