Would you believe that every year around February 14 — valentine’s Day — men and women (but mainly men!) spend over $1 billion on chocolate? It’s true! What is it about chocolate that people love so much?
Do you prefer dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Would you rather have a chocolate pie, a chocolate cake, or a solid chocolate candy bar? Maybe you like to drink your chocolate in the form of chocolate milk or hot chocolate? Some people even enjoy just snacking on chocolate chips!
People’s fascination with chocolate began over 2,000 years ago. It was way back then in Latin America that the Mayans and Aztecs discovered that they could combine crushed cocoa beans (what chocolate is made from) with water to make the first chocolate-flavored drinks.
During his travels in the 16th century, Christopher Columbus noticed how people in the Caribbean used cocoa beans as money, just like the ancient Aztecs did. He brought these beans back to Europe where they soon became very popular. Many people believed the cocoa beans had magical powers. French doctors were even known to use them to treat “broken hearts.”
By the mid-1800s, the Cadbury Brothers began making chocolate candies to sell in their shop in England. In 1861, Richard Cadbury made the first heart-shaped box of chocolate candies for valentine’s Day.
chocolate candies in heart-shaped boxes have been a popular valentine’s Day present ever since. In fact, the chocolate Manufacturers Association estimates that approximately 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate candy — about 58 million pounds’ worth — are sold each year around valentine’s Day.
Scientists today believe that a chemical in chocolate — phenylethylamine — may be responsible for certain feelings we experience. They believe this chemical may make the body release serotonin, the hormone responsible for making you feel calm, relaxed, and happy.
Americans eat a lot of chocolate every year. Experts estimate Americans eat about 11 pounds per person each year. That’s a lot of chocolate, but not near as much as the world’s leaders in chocolate consumption.