National Chocolate Day: Where Did Chocolate Come From?

October 28 is National Chocolate Day, a great day to indulge in some trivia and history on this sweet treat. Dig in!

If there’s no chocolate in Heaven, I’m not going.
―Jane Seabrook, Furry Logic Laugh at Life

I’m a big fan of chocolate. But you’ll never see me with a Russell Stover’s box or Whitman’s Sampler. No shade to anyone who loves that kind of thing but give me a single morsel of pure chocolate over a box of cream-filled confections any day.

National Chocolate Day on October 28 recognizes one of the world’s favorite tastes. While many specific chocolate-related holidays exist throughout the year, National Chocolate Day celebrates all things chocolate.  

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An age-old world-famous treat

Chocolate has been around for over 3,000 years. It was born in Central America and can be traced back to an ancient civilization of people known as the Olmecs. The Olmecs who lived along the Gulf Coast of Mexico from about 1600 BC to around 350 BC introduced it to the Mayans who then passed it on to the Aztecs who then shared it with European explorers.

And it was European explorers who eventually brought chocolate to Florida in the mid-1600s. Of course, back in those days, chocolate was very different than it is today. It was usually consumed as an unsweetened beverage, not a sweet, solid bar or chunk.

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Where does chocolate come from?

Chocolate is made from cacao beans—the seeds inside of the large, gourd-like fruit of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Humans have been cultivating cacao for at least three millennia. The plant grows in Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America. (Today, cacao trees are also grown in Africa, Malaysia, and other hot, humid locations near the Equator.) Historians document the earliest known use of cacao seeds at around 1100 BC.

Once extracted from the cacao fruit, the beans which are naturally quite bitter are fermented for days. Once fermented, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. After roasting, the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The cacao nibs are then ground into cocoa mass which is pure chocolate in rough form.

The cocoa mass is usually liquefied and then molded with or without other ingredients. At this point in the process, it is called chocolate liquor. The chocolate liquor may then be processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

  • Unsweetened baking chocolate: cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions
  • Sweet chocolate: cocoa solids, cocoa butter or other fat and sugar
  • Milk chocolate: sweet chocolate with milk powder or condensed milk
  • White chocolate: cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids
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Heavenly and healthy

The Aztecs believed cacao had magical, even divine properties. The word chocolate originates from the Aztec xocoatl which means food of the gods in their language. As it turns out, the Aztecs weren’t far wrong.

Today, we know that dark chocolate is rich in minerals like magnesium and zinc and also in antioxidants—substances that shield our body’s cells from damage. Scientists say that eating 6 grams of 70 percent dark chocolate a day (that’s 1-2 squares) can reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the risk for diabetes. It can also reduce inflammation in the body. As if we didn’t already have enough reasons to heart chocolate! Can chocolate also cure a cough?

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Why is dark chocolate so healthy?

First of all, while many sweet snacks are simply vehicles for empty calories, dark chocolate has great nutritional value. It’s loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals including high concentrations of potassium, copper, magnesium, and iron.

Health benefits of dark chocolate

Here’s a look at some of the other important roles chocolate can play in promoting good health:

  • Brain booster: Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain which improves cognitive function. The copper in chocolate can also reduce the risk of stroke.
  • Damage dampener: Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants that fight damaging free radicals in the body. Free radicals cause oxidation in cells which is implicated in both aging and cancer.
  • Heart helper: The magnesium in chocolate helps to prevent high blood pressure and heart disease. Eating dark chocolate also improves blood flow and can help prevent the formation of blood clots as well as arteriosclerosis which is a fancy name for the hardening of the arteries.
  • Mood manager: Dark chocolate contains several chemical compounds that can improve your mood. Key among these is phenylethylamine which causes your brain to release endorphins that make you happy. Phenylethylamine is the same chemical our brains produce when we’re falling in love. No wonder eating chocolate feels so good!
  • Pep producer: Dark chocolate contains at least two stimulants, caffeine and theobromine, which help you to feel more awake and alert. Because chocolate contains much less caffeine than a cup of coffee it may be more easily tolerated by those who are sensitive to caffeine.
  • Sugar stabilizer: Unlike many sugary snacks, dark chocolate has a low glycemic index so it won’t cause dangerous blood sugar spikes. In addition, flavonoids found in chocolate can help reduce insulin resistance by encouraging your body to use insulin efficiently. Finally, because chocolate promotes healthy circulation, it can also protect against damage to the extremities caused by type 2 diabetes.
  • Tooth toughener: In addition to being a stimulant, theobromine also hardens tooth enamel. So, far from causing cavities eating dark chocolate can prevent them.
  • Cough quieter: Turns out, that chocolate quiets a cough better than cough medicine. A research group from London randomly prescribed a group of patients either regular cough medicine or a chocolate-based medicine. Patients on the chocolate-based medication reported that their coughs settled down more quickly than those on regular cough syrup. Scientists believe the properties of cocoa help relieve irritation and inflammation. So go ahead and enjoy that piece of your favorite chocolate when you feel that throat tickle,
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History of National Chocolate Day

As mentioned earlier, the history of chocolate goes back over 3,000 years. Aztecs loved their newly discovered liquid chocolate to the extent that they believed Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, literally bestowed it upon them. Cacao seeds acted as a form of currency. And this was back in the bitter chocolate days. Once chocolate turned sweet in 16th-century Europe the masses caught on and turned chocolate into a powerhouse treat.

Several present-day chocolate companies began operations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadbury started in England in 1868. Milton S. Hershey, 25 years later, purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He started the company by producing chocolate-coated caramels. Nestlé, dating back to the 1860s, has grown into one of the largest food conglomerates in the world.

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Chocolatey trivia

As you nibble on brownies and truffles, give the following fun facts about chocolate a read. We hope they’ll make your National Chocolate Day all the more mouth-watering!

  • It takes approximately 400 cacao beans to make one pound of chocolate.
  • In 1828, a Dutch chemist by the name of Coenraad van Houten invented Dutch cocoa powder by removing natural fats (cocoa butter) from chocolate liquor, grinding it up, and adding alkaline salts to cut its bitter taste.
  • The first chocolate bar was created in 1847 by Joseph Fry who discovered that a moldable chocolate paste could be made by adding melted cocoa butter back into Dutch cocoa.
  • The first-known printed recipe for brownies appeared in The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook in 1896 although the dessert was flavored with molasses instead of chocolate. Chocolate wasn’t added to the recipe until the cookbook’s 1906 edition.
  • During the American Revolutionary War, chocolate was included in soldiers’ rations and was even given to soldiers in lieu of wages.
  • The world’s largest Snickers candy bar was 12-feet-long, 2-feet-tall, and weighed more than two tons! And yes, it was edible.
  • A four-story-high Hershey’s Chocolate Bar replica sits outside of the Hershey’s Chocolate World attraction in Niagara Falls, Ontario. (In comparison, a life-sized Hershey bar is about 6 inches tall.)
  • The Lindt Home of Chocolate Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, houses one of the world’s largest chocolate fountains. At 30.5 feet tall, it holds nearly 400 gallons of real, liquid chocolate.
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Other chocolate holidays to nibble on

In addition to National Chocolate Day, be sure to revel in these other holidays that honor chocolate:

  • National Hot Chocolate Day: January 31
  • National Cream-filled Chocolate Day: February 14
  • National Chocolate Covered Nut Day: February 25
  • National Chocolate Covered Cashews Day: April 21
  • National Chocolate Chip Day: May 15: May 15
  • National Chocolate Ice Cream Day: June 7
  • National Chocolate with Almonds Day: July 8
  • National Milk Chocolate Day: July 28
  • National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day: August 4
  • National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day: August 20
  • International Chocolate Day: September 13
  • National Chocolate Covered Anything Day: December 16
  • National Chocolate Candy Day: December 28

Don’t see your favorite chocolate listed then create your own national chocolate day

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By the numbers

  • $10,000: Price of Swarovski-studded chocolates
  • $260: Price of a 1.76-ounce To’ak chocolate bar
  • 400: Number of cacao beans it takes to make one pound of chocolate
  • 8: Number of years it took to perfect the recipe for milk chocolate
  • 90 million: Number of chocolate Easter bunnies manufactured every year
  • 36 million: Number of heart-shaped chocolate boxes sold every Valentine’s Day
  • 1828: Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten invented a hydraulic press that could separate the cocoa butter from the cacao, thereby producing a powder
  • 1847: British confectioners invented the first chocolate bar
  • 1875: Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter joins forces with M. Henri Nestlé, then a baby-food manufacturer who had invented a milk-condensation process; together they found a way to bring milk chocolate onto the market and would go on to form the Nestlé company
  • 20: Percentage of all dark chocolate consumed in the U.S. 
  • 22 pounds: Amount of chocolate that would need to be eaten to kill a person
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National Chocolate Day activities

Try making your own truffles: It may seem difficult but it’s actually easier than you think. All you’ll need is some cream, some chocolate chips and a tiny bit of time.

Tour a local chocolatier: Get an up-close look at the process that chocolate goes through from bean to bar at a local chocolate factory or chocolatier. Most places have tours available to the public and are more than happy to share their knowledge, experience, and love of the chocolate profession and trade.

Share chocolate with your friends: Chocolate is amazing, friends are amazing, and human connection over chocolate is one of the most beautiful things. Most people like chocolate, and really, even if they don’t, you know they’ll appreciate the offer to spend a moment with them and chat.

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Four dreamy facts about chocolate

1.  Chocolate is technically a vegetable: Chocolate comes from the cacao bean which grows on the cacao tree.

2. White chocolate is not chocolate: As it contains no cocoa solids white chocolate isn’t chocolate.

3. The first chocolate beverage: Hot chocolate was brewed in Aztec culture and tasted really bitter.

4. Cacao beans as currency: The Aztecs valued cacao beans so much that it was used as currency.

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

—Charles M. Schulz: Cartoonist

20 Healthy Snacks for Your Next RV Road Trip

Bring these 20 healthy snacks on your next road trip

Who doesn’t love good travel snacks? While fuel stops can provide you with a convenient, on-the-go snack, you’ll want to be careful with what you choose to eat while on the road.

As tempting as it may be to grab that Snickers bar when you stop to fill up on fuel for your road trip, you may regret that decision. Not only does a Snickers bar have absolutely no nutritional value to help your body get what it needs, it will actually put harmful chemicals in your body such as high fructose corn syrup.

By packing good, healthy snacks for your road trip, you’ll find that you won’t be tempted to grab that Snickers bar because you know something better is waiting for you in your RV.

If you eat healthy snacks and limit the unhealthy ones you should be more alert while driving. You might also feel good and have more energy to set up camp once you arrive at your destination.

Apples make a healthy treat © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes a good snack for a road trip?

Have you ever been on a road trip where you picked up a sweet treat at a fuel stop only to feel hungry again twenty minutes later? That’s because there is a significant difference between healthy snacks that will stave your hunger for a long time and not-so-healthy snacks that will make you feel hungrier in the long run.

So, what makes the healthiest, best road trip snacks?

Balance and measure

One thing you might want to try to do is to choose food that balances your blood sugar. If you eat fresh fruit like an apple pair it with protein. Have a handful of nuts, a smear of peanut butter, meat slices, or cheese.

Just be careful to watch your protein serving size, as nuts, cheese, and meats can pack a lot of calories. It is a good idea to measure out your snacks before driving. Otherwise, you might open a large bag of trail mix and mindlessly eat as you go which can result in an unhealthy calorie intake.

Pistachios make a healthy treat © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste the rainbow

Another suggested way to eat healthy on the road is to pack a rainbow of snacks. It is as simple as having natural foods that are different colors. For example, you can pack orange carrots, red apples, yellow bell peppers, green broccoli, and tan hummus.

Some people say the brighter your natural food color, the healthier it is (usually). Many white or brown foods indicate that they have been processed such as crackers. Limit those foods and avoid foods made bright from food dye.

When looking for a healthy snack, you also want to consider what contains healthy fats. Our bodies need fat but we want to have more healthy ones that come from natural foods. For example, consider making a sandwich with avocado instead of mayonnaise.

If you crave salty or sweet travel snacks while on the road, then treat yourself! Just limit road trip food that makes you feel groggy while driving your rig.

Favorite road trip snacks

The following are ideas for healthy road trip snacks that can be modified for you and your family.

Here, then, are my top picks for healthy road trip snacks.

Apples at a fruit stand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Good ol’ fresh fruit

Many people like to munch on road trips, which is why chips and jerky and other stereotypical road trip snacks are popular. But, fresh fruit is an excellent alternative munchy! Living off chips leaves you feeling groggy and hungry.

It’s a good idea to pair fruit with some protein to help prevent your blood sugar from spiking which can cause tiredness and hunger once the fruit’s sugar wears off. Consider pairing all your fresh fruit snacks with protein like a handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or string cheese.

Grapes are a great, healthy snack for those with a sweet tooth and those who like to munch to pass the time! Apple slices with peanut butter are also a great way to satisfy that need for a crunchy snack.

2. Protein bars

Protein bars can stick with you to keep hunger at bay until you arrive at your destination. Be careful, though with your choice of protein bars. There are countless protein bars out there that are full of nothing but sugar and crazy additives and preservatives that you’ve never heard of.

Instead, look for a protein bar with natural ingredients that will give you the nutrients your body needs and wants without the sugar crash. Be sure to read the nutrients table.

Or consider a meat-bar. Yes. That’s a thing. There’s Bison Bacon Cranberry Bar, Chicken Sriracha Strips, and Oven Baked Pork Rinds.

Amish cheese from Holmes, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Meat, cheese, and crackers

Meat, cheese, and crackers are a favorite snack. Not only does this delicious combination taste great but it packs a big punch of protein to help tie you over during a long drive.

Though they are more expensive than making your own, you can buy premade packs from the grocery store that are quite yummy.

Consider bringing summer sausage, salami, pepperoni, or your favorite lunch meat. You can also include whatever type of cheese you love. Some folks like to buy blocks of Pepper Jack or Swiss and cut them into bite-size cubes. Cheese Snack Sticks and Babybel cheeses are two easy on-the-go kinds of cheese you can take. They both come with self-contained packages which help keep them fresh until you are ready to nosh.

4. String cheese

You’re never too old to eat string cheese especially when you know the nutritional benefits it provides. Pair your string cheese with apple slices and you’ll have a snack that perfectly covers healthy fat, good protein, and complex carbs. With this trio of nutrients, you won’t be hungry again for a while and you’ll also feel your energy levels increase.

Eggs for purchase © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Hard-boiled eggs

I have to admit that hard-boiled eggs are not my favorite but they do make a great snack. They are a great source of protein and come with their nature packaging. These little eggs are not only easy to prepare, they are easy to store and easy to eat on the road. You can add a little salt or paprika to spice it up a bit. Just remember, easy on the salt!

For some extra crunch and the perks of some quality complex carbs, add some whole wheat crackers to your egg snack for the perfect pick-me-up.

6. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds pack a lot of excellent nutrients. You can choose the unshelled roasted seeds for an easy-to-eat snack. These are easy to pick up at a convenience or grocery store.

Some people love opening the seeds themselves. It helps pass the time and can also help you eat less. Shelling them can help you feel fuller since it will take longer to eat your snack.

Just be sure to check the serving size since nuts and seeds can have a lot of calories. Plus, opt for salt-free sunflower seeds.

7. Granola bars

Granola and energy bars are convenient road snacks. Bars come in different flavors and can be healthy food but they are not all created equal. Some bars are packed with nutrients while others are just empty calories like a candy bar. You can also find bars with less sugar that will also be likely to have fewer calories.

8. Trail mix

Trail mix is one of the easiest healthy snacks for a road trip and it will fill you up for hours. One serving of a nuts and seeds trail mix has 336 calories, 25 grams of fat (only 6 grams of saturated fat), 4 grams of fiber, 11 grams of protein, and no cholesterol. Plus, this is one of the best road trip snacks for kids.

Trail mix is a great way to get healthy protein and fats into your road trip day. Trail mix takes a while for your body to process making you feel full and energized for a long drive. You want to watch your serving size and choose trail mix that limits candy in the mix.

A variety of vegetables at Galt Farmers Market, Galt, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Vegetables

Consider taking along baby carrots or celery sticks as a healthy snack while driving on travel days. This is an easy way to get your veggies in a while on the road. If you are not a huge vegetable fan, consider bringing a small tub of dip for the veggies.

Hummus is another healthy snack that can be paired with vegetables. You can even buy a lower-fat ranch or make your own using plain Greek yogurt and Ranch seasoning to keep it as healthy as possible. Or, if Ranch is your go-to vegetable dip, bring some along.

10. Beef jerky

This road trip snack is packed full of protein which is one of the best ways to satisfy your hunger. However, don’t opt for jerky from the gas station that comes loaded with preservatives and whose sodium levels are off the charts. Instead, pick up an organic, grass-fed one from your local natural foods store.

Popcorn is always a treat and its healthy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Popcorn

Popcorn is a great source of fiber and complex carbs that will help your body stay regular and provide you with energy while on the road. Make sure you’re not getting the microwave popcorn that is filled with chemicals. Instead, grab one from the natural foods store that has ingredients of just corn, salt, and oil. Even better yet, pop some on the stove at home using olive oil or butter and just salt. That way, you know exactly what you’re getting.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Pistachios

The protein from these nuts is plant-based and they’re also packed full of unsaturated fats and fiber. Not to mention, they’re much lower in terms of calories than other nuts. Pistachios weigh in at just 4 calories per nut while Brazil nuts are 33 calories each.

Walnuts by the bulk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Walnuts

Pistachios aren’t the only great nuts on the block—walnuts are great for their own reasons. They have the highest amount of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids when compared with all other nuts which will help you feel full for a longer amount of time.

Carrots in a variety of colors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Carrots

Though carrots do have fiber in them and other great nutritional value, one of the reasons I suggest this as a road trip snack is because oftentimes when on the road, you find yourself wanting to eat simply because you’re bored. So, rather than fill that boredom with unhealthy snacks, munch on some carrots that will take you a while to eat and will keep you busy without making a mess.

Grapes for sale at a farmers’ market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Grapes

Similar to carrots, grapes are a great option for when you’re bored and want to eat something on the road. Healthy, clean, and easy to eat, grapes will help stave off the boredom. Just don’t go overboard with the grapes—they do have a lot of sugar in them.

16. Hummus and celery

Hummus is another great protein-packed snack that will help keep your belly full and happy. In addition, hummus is full of B vitamins. And celery is the perfect dipping stick. Low in calories, but high in water content, your body will love this hummus-celery combo.

17. Greek yogurt

It’s protein all the way with Greek yogurt. This little snack is full of it and will help keep you full until your next meal. Top your Greek yogurt with some nuts or fruit for some added fiber and energy.

18. PB sandwich (skip the J)

Though I love jelly, it usually doesn’t offer up anything but loads of added sugar. Instead, grab for quality peanut butter (be sure to check your ingredients and say no to peanut butter with sugar added to it for a healthy dose of protein and fat.

Slather that peanut butter on some whole wheat bread and you’ve covered your complex carbs, your protein, and your fat. If you’re feeling extra hungry, grab a banana, slice it up, and throw it in between the bread and have yourself a PB&B.

Assortment of dried fruit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Dried fruits

Before you buy any dried fruits, be sure you check the label. You do not want to get any that have added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Find the ones that simply have ingredients listed as just the fruit and nothing else. Better yet, make your own.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates in Frankfort, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Dark chocolate

Yes, you read that right: dark chocolate. While I don’t recommend chowing down an entire bar in one sitting (and you probably wouldn’t want to with the really dark stuff), there are some benefits from eating a bit of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is known to lower the risk of heart disease while also increasing brain function. As if we weren’t on board already!

Worth Pondering…

The most important thing is to snack on things that are filled with real food and nourishing ingredients that will leave you feeling energised and happy.

—Ella Woodward