Facts about Chocolate You Never Knew: Delicious and Mysterious

You love it, you crave it, it’s the most delicious thing humans ever made, but you know little about it. Here are some facts about chocolate for you to enjoy.

According to OneGreenPlanet, the average American eats about 12 pounds of chocolate per year throughout desserts, holidays and festivals. Chocolate is something that is tied to our culture as well as our stomachs, and for a food so incorporated into American menus, we know a woefully small amount of information about it. So, to correct this injustice, we decides to tell you some facts about chocolate that might change the way you view it.

How it’s really made


Cocoa beans grow as the seeds of a football sized fruit, and take careful preparation before they can become chocolate. The trees can only grow 20 degrees north and south of the equator in rural areas like West Africa, Southeast Asia and central and South America. According to the TheStoryofChocolate.com, the trees are fragile and cannot be climbed, so farmers must cut the pods down with long hooks and open and pick out the pulp covered seeds by hand.

Chocolate farming has been done the same way for thousands of years because the “by hand process” is still the most efficient and tasty way for chocolate to be made. Then the chocolate beans are wrapped in banana leaves to ferment and allow the white pulp to dry off the individual beans. Then the beans are allowed to dry in the sun before finally being able to be shipped around the world to be turned into chocolate.

Human rights issues with chocolate

Cacao trees in Africa

It can’t be denied that with a food process that is so heavily dependent on manual skilled labor, many people are necessary to farm chocolate. Since cacao trees can only grow in rural, impoverished areas like West Africa, South America and Asia, there is bound to be controversy.

About 75% of all chocolate production is centered completely in West Africa and a huge proportion is done using child labor. The issue with this is that it’s so difficult to know when chocolate is made using child labor, because so much of it is and it’s not regulated enough to be able to tell.

Fair trade chocolate is an agency that specifically makes sure the chocolate they buy and use is made with fair wages and no child labor, but it is more expensive and less accessible than regular chocolate. It’s easy to forget that chocolate which is so common in stores and households is actually an exotic product that must travel halfway across the world into every Snicker’s bar or Hershey.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint if chocolate is being made fairly, there are people who have fair chocolate growing practices. On this list are all the companies that utilize fairly made chocolate that the Food Empowerment Project feels are worthy of the label, fairly made.

Environmental impact


One of the biggest essential ingredients in chocolate isn’t cacao at all, but palm oil. This is a huge environmental concern, because palm oil growing decimates the rainforests. It only grows in hot temperatures, but that doesn’t mean it needs to grow specifically by rainforests.

Not only does this occasionally displace forest dwelling peoples, but it also kills the biodiversity of the land. This means that instead of having thousands of plant species in one small area, one plant is taking over the entire area.

According to WWF these large scale farms also become barriers between portions of the rainforests, meaning animals cannot cross from one area to another without crossing large palm oil plantations, which they are hesitant to do. This causes animal species to be pigeonholed into smaller areas without being able to access the animals they eat for food or other species of their kind to mate with.

This counts for all types of species, from microorganisms in the ground, plants, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals. The rainforests are already the most dense areas of the world for species diversification, so when you take away every acre of that forest, it is more valuable than any other part of the earth’s land.

Most notably displaced are endangered orangutans whose sole habitat is the areas used for palm oil growth. Being pushed into smaller and smaller areas, an already endangered species must compete for food and land, while fighting the traditional diseases and specie’s impacts.

So, why should we care? Some orangutan clans are becoming extinct and maybe a few weird bugs and plants don’t have areas to grow. Why do we care? If palm oil needs to grow there and we use it, do we have another option? Of all agricultural environmental issues, palm oil is cited as one of the top issues the WWF would like to remedy. That means beyond all the other issues we tend to hear about in the news.

This alone should make it a big enough deal for us to take notice and attempt to use less of palm oil and/or replace it with the use of other oils. When biodiversity goes down, so does the possibility of new discoveries. Even if you don’t care about animals, the smoke released from palm oil production burns the peat of the rainforest, or dead plant matter.

According to Ensia.com, burning a single hectare of peat land throws 6,000 metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s a ridiculous amount of carbon in the air that I can’t see why anyone would want.

The possible solutions:

Grow palm oil somewhere else. It’s not a very permanent fix, but at least it keeps the huge impact at bay.

Indonesia and Malaysia supply 85% of the world’s palm oil but that doesn’t need to be the case. A better alternative is just moving the palm plants to other wealthier countries than replacing it altogether.

A company in San Francisco, California called Solazyme is already creating algae oil that is heart healthier than palm oil by a mile and environmentally stable. By switching to this alternative and making it a viable option on a large scale, we could solve an amazing amount of environmental issues.

Health benefits of chocolate


It’s no well-kept secret that dark chocolate is good for us, but the full reaches of its potential are often understated. According to womenshealthmag.com, a Swedish study proved that weekly intake of dark chocolate over the average women’s lifetime can reduce heart failure risk by up to a third. A 30% decrease for heart failure chances is worth taking note of.

With heart ailments being the number one mortality cause, anything a girl can do to fortify her heart is worth it. It’s been known to lessen the cravings a person feels for fatty or sweet foods after small portions of dark chocolate are eaten. Weirdly, dark chocolate can help control insulin sensitivity. That’s right, eating dark chocolate over your almonds and raspberries can actually help you fight off type 2 diabetes.

Health studies, while not saying stress eating is by any means a good option, tell women to put aside ice cream after a breakup for dark chocolate. It cuts down on stress hormones in the digestion and also relieves small portions of a person’s anxiety.

Finally, the flavonoids in dark chocolate increase blood flow to the brain, stimulating brain activity and allowing you to focus and think harder for more difficult tasks. In conclusion, if you don’t love dark chocolate now… learn to love it. Milk chocolate definitely tastes better, because we are often used to it, but dark has its merits, and can be, in some recipes, just as effective.

Chocolate economy in the US


Even though it takes old-fashioned labor in harvesting chocolate, when it gets to the US or other wealthy countries that make the beans into true chocolate, jobs are on the decline. Machines are unsurprisingly displacing factory workers at an increasing rate. While people still need to oversee that the machines are doing their jobs properly, less and less workers need to be hired.

Although the amount of chocolate consumed is roughly the same since 1980, the amount of factory workers is not. According to CNN in 1980 the number for chocolate factory workers was around 54,000, but this number has sunk in 2013 to 38,000. The two top places where people work in chocolate factories are Chicago, Illinois and San Francisco, California.

It’s also no surprise that like most other businesses, chocolate companies are moving their factories overseas for the cheaper labor. As an 83 billion dollar enterprise yearly, chocolates are definitely a sector of business that can be lucrative for companies. With most of the world’s chocolate being eaten by the US and European countries, it is curious that eating chocolate hasn’t caught on in other cultures the same way it has here and in Europe.

Whether any of these numbers affect the reader’s opinion of chocolate is completely up in the air. I interpret it as an interesting trend and correlation, but not of nearly the same impact as, for instance, how chocolate farming affects child labor and third world economies.

Chocolate myths


Many myths surrounding chocolate that have cemented themselves in most people’s heads are nothing but old wives’ tales. To debunk the chocolate myths, one has to go at them one by one:

  1. Chocolate causes acne: There is actually very little fact to support this, while scientists know that high fat/high salt diets can contribute to acne, chocolate on its own is not likely the culprit. An unhealthy diet with lots of fat and salt increases the body’s inflammatory response, which is why sebum (the gunk that causes acne) increases, and bam – zits.
  2. Chocolate has lots of caffeine: One oz. of chocolate has about the same amount as a decaffeinated coffee. One oz. of dark chocolate has 12 mg. of caffeine, while a normal coffee has about 95 mg. This is not a very significant amount, and it’s not enough to concern anyone who watches the amount of caffeine they intake on a given period of time.
  3. Chocolate causes migraines: Although often cited as a trigger for migraines, in studies where people were given half carob made chocolate and half cacao, there was no observable difference in the migraine onset or stopping points. This is enough to make one assume that even though carob is completely different from chocolate, it had the same effect, which was arguably, no effect. Thus chocolate cannot be a conceivably good cause for headaches both severe and mild.
  4. Carob is better for you than chocolate: Okay, so this one is a half myth. While carob on its own is less fattening, when producers make carob into chocolate, they must add fat to the carob in order to successfully turn it into candy. Carob is naturally sweeter than cocoa, but don’t be fooled into thinking that carob made chocolate is the instant weight loss revolution that allows you to still get your chocolate fix. When it comes down to it, they are about the same.
  5. Chocolate is addicting: This is another half myth, because while the effect of chocolate on the mind can be considered as similar to the effects of a drug when experiments have been conducted, they have found no addictive qualities. To explain, when a capsule of cocoa was swallowed, no apparent chocolate craving was fulfilled, but when a person ate a chocolate bar, it was. This suggests that the “chocolate craving” is more a learned cultural addiction then a psychological one, like true addictive substances. People in other countries, other than European ones, do not crave chocolate nearly as much or report spending so much time thinking about ways to implement chocolate into everyday menus.

Let us know what you think about this list of everything you needed to know about chocolate. Share this with any chocolate loving friends or with your Facebook friends. It’s important to know more about what we so readily buy, and chocolate is a common enough substance that it deserves some analysis on its different aspects.

About the author

Raichel Jenkins

Raichel is an ambitious free spirit who loves poetry, hiking, and a decent amount of carbs. She is a Journalism student at Ohio University with a passion for women’s rights, sappy love stories, and intricacies of the human experience.

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