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Surprising Chocolate Facts, Just in Time for NMAI’s Power of Chocolate Festival

Attendees will have the opportunity to grind and sample their own chocolate beverages and learn about the history and science behind the "food of the gods."

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Juanita Velasco (Ixil Maya) grinds cacao beans into chocolate during the 2011 Power of Chocolate Festival. The Maya and Aztec peoples valued cacao pods as symbols of life, fertility and even currency. Photo: Katherine Fogden/NMAI

The National Museum of the American Indian’s annual “Power of Chocolate Festival” returns this weekend, February 11 and 12, longer and stronger, and with more cacao muscle. Participants will be able to create their own chocolate beverages old-school style, grinding up cacao seeds under the expert eye of Mars Chocolate’s Rodney Snyder. And Mitsitam Café’s Chef Hetzler will be there to discuss the use of chocolate in cooking both savory and sweet dishes.

Catherine Kwik-Uribe, the director of research and development for Mars Botanical, a scientific division of Mars, Inc.,  works hard to give you all the more reason to eat chocolate, and she’ll be speaking about that on Saturday. Kwik-Uribe researches the different ways that cocoa flavanols–the specific mixture of phytonutrients found naturally in cocoa–can potentially maintain and improve cardiovascular health. Her favorite candy bar? Dove Dark, of course.

In honor of this weekend’s festival, Kwik-Uribe assisted me in coming up with some of our Top Ten Surprising Facts About Chocolate:

  1. Americans eat almost half of the world’s yearly supply of chocolate.
  2. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus gave the cocoa tree its scientific name , Theobroma cacao, which means “Food of the gods.”
  3. All cocoa products contain theobromine, an alkaloid similar to caffeine but far less potent–we can trace chocolate use in Mesoamerica by the presence of theobromine in pottery.
  4. Chocolate can be potentially fatal for dog, since canines are unable to break down and excrete the high amounts of fat and theobromine as efficiently as humans.
  5. Mesoamerican peoples have been reported to have used cacao for over 34 centuries.
  6. George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin all drank chocolate.
  7. Amelia Earhart had a cup of chocolate during her record-setting flight over the Pacific from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland on January 11, 1935.
  8. The world’s largest chocolate bunny was constructed by South African artist Harry Johnson in 2010, and was 12 feet, five inches tall and weighed in at more than three tons.
  9. The Aztecs considered chocolate to be an aphrodisiac, and ruler Montezuma reportedly consumed 50 cups of the chocolate beverage, xocolatl, per day.
  10. An average cocoa pod contains about 40 cocoa beans–it takes over 1,000 cocoa beans to make one kilogram of chocolate liquor, the key ingredient in milk and dark chocolates.

For the full schedule of chocolate-flavored events this weekend, click here.

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