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To lots of people, Valentine's Day means a big, heart-shaped box of chocolate candy. Almost everybody loves to eat chocolate, but hardly anyone knows that we owe this treat to an ancient Aztec king and his secret beans.

Chocolate! Just thinking about a piece of sweet chocolate candy or a cup of foamy hot chocolate can make your mouth water.

Today almost anyone can buy chocolate. But it wasn't always that way. Until the 1500s, chocolate was a secret known only to the people of Central and South America.


A Spanish explorer named Hernan Cortes may have been the first "outsider" to find out about chocolate. Cortes visited Mexico in 1519. He soon discovered that the Aztec Indians living there valued some beans almost as much as they did gold. The beans were from a tree the Aztecs called kakahuatl (ka-ka-hoo-AH-tul).

Cortes and his soldiers ate many meals with rich and powerful Aztecs. He reported that these people drank amazing amounts of something they called chocolatl (show-co-LAH-tul). This watery, bitter drink was made from those mysterious beans.

The name chocolatl may have come from the way the drink was prepared. First, kakahuatl beans were crushed and mixed with vanilla, ground corn, and chili peppers to make a thick paste. Then water (which the Aztecs called latl) was added. This made a choco, choco, choco sound.

Montezuma, the Aztec king, was said to have drunk 50 golden goblets of the drink every day (drawing at left). Montezuma's palace staff also had the chocolatl habit. Every day they drank 2000 pitchers of it!

Cortes figured that if an Aztec king liked chocolatl, a Spanish king would too. So he brought some beans to Europe as one of the fabulous treasures from America.

The Spanish royalty called their new drink chocolate

(cho-co-LAH-tay). They sweetened it with sugar or honey and flavored it with cinnamon. But since the Spanish couldn't get enough beans for themselves, they didn't want to share them with anyone. They kept their secret so well that, for many years, very few people in Europe knew about chocolate.


When the secret finally leaked out, only rich people could buy chocolate. But soon more and more beans were being grown, and better ways of turning them into chocolate were discovered. So by the late 1600s, chocolate was easier to buy in Europe. In England, for example, people could go to "chocolate houses" to drink all the chocolate they wanted.

The great taste of chocolate finally reached North America in 1765. That's when the first chocolate factory opened in New England. Even Thomas Jefferson got the chocolate habit. He and many others believed that chocolate was good for their health.

Over the years, kakahuatl trees became known as cacao (cah-COW) trees. And today they're grown in tropical countries around the world. If you saw a cacao tree, the first things you'd notice would be its football-shaped bean pods. The pods grow right from the tree's trunks and branches.

Inside each of the pods is gooey, white, sweet-tasting pulp. When people harvest the pods, they often eat some of the pulp as a treat while they work. Inside the pulp are 30 to 40 purplish cacao beans. If you chewed on a bean right out of the pod, it would be so bitter that you'd spit it out.


After the pods are picked, the pulp and beans are taken out. The beans are then left to soak in the pulp for three to seven days. During that time, chemicals inside the beans change. The pulp also begins to rot and drain away. When the beans start smelling like chocolate, they are dried in the sun. Finally they're shipped to chocolate-making factories all over the world.

At chocolate factories, the beans are roasted, shattered and shaken, tumbled over and over again, and ground up into tiny bits. These bits are then melted into a thick paste called chocolate liquor. (This liquor has no alcohol in it.)


Chocolate liquor is the "secret ingredient" in all kinds of chocolate products. Pure chocolate liquor is hardened and sold as unsweetened baking chocolate. Semisweet chocolate has enough sugar added to make it taste good. Sweet chocolate candy has even more sugar in it. And milk can be added to make milk chocolate.

Whichever way it's made, chocolate is eaten and drunk by millions of people around the world. Very few of them know chocolate's history. But if they did, they'd all be glad that chocolate was a secret nobody could keep!

Thanks to Allen M. Young, author of The Chocolate Tree (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994), for his help with this story.


1. What town always smells like chocolate?

a. Cocoa Beach, Florida

b. Hershey, Pennsylvania

c. Carmel, California

2. White chocolate has real chocolate in it. True or false?

3. What does "M&M" stand for?

a. Munchy and Mouth- watering

b. Mars and Murrie

c. More and More

4. How did Hershey's Kisses get their name?

a. Mr. Hershey's wife kissed him after she tried his tasty new candy.

b. They were first made for Valentine's Day gifts.

c. "Kiss" is an old name for any small piece of chocolate wrapped in foil.

5. About how many pounds of chocolate does the average person in the United States eat every year? a. 6; b. 11; c. 18

6. Which of these things have been made out of chocolate?

a. jigsaw puzzle

b. chess set

c. model of a computer diskette

d. model of the Statue of Liberty

e. all of these

7. Would the world's largest chocolate egg have fit inside your bedroom?

a. sure--it was about the size of a watermelon

b. probably--it was about 7 feet (2 m) tall

c. no way--unless you have a ceiling that's 18 feet (5.5 m) high.


1. b. Hershey is the home of the Hershey Foods Corporation. One end of town smells of chocolate. At the other end, where Hershey Foods makes peanut butter cups, it smells of peanuts!

2. False. White chocolate contains lots of cocoa butter, which comes from cacao beans. But it doesn't have what all true chocolate must have--chocolate liquor.

3. b. M&M candies may be "munchy and mouth-watering," but they were named after their inventors, Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie.

4. c

5. b

6. e. Almost anything you can imagine has been made out of chocolate in factories around the world.

7. c. The giant egg was 17 feet, 9 inches (about 5.5 m) tall, and it weighed more than 2 1/2 tons (2250 kg).RANGER RICK
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes a quiz on chocolate trivia; history of chocolate, how it is made, and the different forms in which it is eaten
Publication:Ranger Rick
Date:Feb 1, 1996
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