It may seem odd that National Cocoa Day falls on a separate day from its best-known product – chocolate – but alas, with 365 days on the calendar, there was room for both. When it comes to chocolate, we’re always happy for more.
And while December may seem like an odd time for cocoa, when it’s cold outside, and you’re bundled up indoors with a warm mug of hot cocoa, it makes all the sense in the world.
So grab a cup, sit back and take in the sweet aroma of these seven cocoa facts.
1. There Is A Difference Between Cacao, Cocoa And Chocolate
Cocoa and chocolate come from the fruit of the cacao tree. The trees produce large pods that contain anywhere from 20 to 40 beans or seeds.
Raw ground seeds are cacao. It’s only when they are fermented, dried, and roasted that they become cocoa.
Chocolate gets made by mixing the cocoa paste with cocoa butter (additional fat separated from cocoa paste) along with sugar, emulsifiers and often, vanilla.
2. Cocoa Fights Tooth Decay – No Really, It Does
Certain parts of the cocoa bean are known to have antibacterial properties that fight tooth decay and have been so successful in studies they may one day get added to toothpaste.
Does this mean you should run out and eat chocolate? No. Well, yeah, eat chocolate because you love it, but remember that the sugar added is still damaging.
3. Cocoa Really Is A Mood Enhancer
Cocoa contains a number of feel-good chemicals. For starters, it contains caffeine, and we all know how important that is to daily sanity. It also contains theobromine, which like caffeine, stimulates our nervous system.
Last but not least cocoa contains a compound called phenylethylamine that not only releases endorphins but also increases our production of dopamine, both of which are linked to pleasure and sexual arousal.
4. The Olmecs Were The First To Consume Cocoa Some 3,500 Years Ago
Before the Mayans and the Aztecs, there were the Olmecs, who likely mixed the crushed beans in water with herbs and spices.
By the time Spanish conquistadors made it to Mexico, the Aztecs had been drinking a form of hot cocoa called Xocolatl, which Emperor Montezuma exclaimed as, “the divine drink that builds resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food." Amen.
5. The Chocolate Bar Went Public In 1847
England had chocolate bars as far back as 1830, but up to this point, it was a treat reserved exclusively for royalty. That changed in 1847 when the English company Fry’s created the very first chocolate bar for the general public. And there was much rejoicing.
6. There Are Four Different Types Of Cocoa: Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario And Nacional
Roughly 80% of the world’s cultivated cocoa is Forastero because of its higher yield and faster growth time.
While the cocoa tree is native to Central and South America, the majority of it – 70% – is produced in West Africa.
The other varieties, while cultivated, either produce fewer beans or are just more difficult to grow, though Criollo is said to produce a more “sophisticated” flavor.
7. Spain Loved Cocoa So Much They Kept It Secret For As Long As They Could
While Columbus brought cacao beans back with him on his fourth trip, it was Hernan Cortés who popularized the drink. Unpleasantly bitter, cocoa only became popular with Spanish nobility after they added sugar.
The English Armada would even toss cargo containers of cocoa from captured Spanish vessels because they thought it had no value.
Spain continued growing cocoa throughout its colonies and Monks kept it secret until Spanish Princess Maria Theresa gave it as an engagement gift to Luis XIV of France in 1615. From there, word spread throughout Europe.