Fun Scientific Facts about Chocolate

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With many people receiving chocolate recently for Valentine’s Day, what better way to celebrate and embrace this tradition than by learning more about the sugary sweet science behind the making of chocolate.

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  1. Cacao has been cultivated by the early Mesoamerican cultures for at least three millennia. Earliest use of Cacao dates back to Mokaya (Mexico and Guatemala), chocolate beverages first seen as early as 1900 BCE. The majority of Mesoamerican people, including the Mayans and Aztecs, made and consumed chocolate beverages. At this time Cacao beans were commonly made into a beverage known as xocoatl meaning “bitter water” in Nahuatl.

2. Chocolate processing consists of a multistep process which, starting from cocoa beans, involves fermentation, drying, roasting, nib grinding and refining, conching and tempering.

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3.Dark chocolate is considered the healthiest form of chocolate due to the low content of sugar, high percentages of cocoa, flavonoids, and theobromine compared to milk chocolate or white chocolate. Dark chocolate consumption has been linked to healthy levels of blood pressure, insulin resistance, vascular function and prevention of heart disease. It increases production of nitric oxide and delays oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and inhibits ultraviolet-induced DNA oxidation.

4. 10% of the cocoa bean during manufacturing consists of polyphenols. These dietary polyphenols are a great source of antioxidants, but they are also what gives unprocessed chocolate its distinctive bitter taste. Manufacturers developed processing techniques for eliminating the bitterness by reducing the polyphenol content to make it more palatable to consumers.

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5. The process of processing and producing milk chocolate was popularized by Milton S.  Hershey, founder of The Hershey Company.  The use of fresh milk in chocolate is difficult because it cannot be held for more than 72 hours after being received. This means that the milk must be immediately processed into milk chocolate or risk being wasted. While the entire process is a trade secret, experts theorize that Hershey’s milk chocolate works around this limitation by partially lipolyzing their milk to produce butyric acid, where it is then pasteurized and stabilized.  The use of butyric acid and lyophilization are key to the distinctive flavor of Hershey milk chocolate that has been imitated by other chocolate manufacturers.


Owen, (2013) Chocolate Science and Technology. Journal of food science.72 (9): 541-552

Verna R. The history and science of chocolate. Malays. J. Pathol. 2013;35:111–121

 Coe S.D., Coe M.D. The True History of Chocolate. 1st ed. Thames and Hudson; London, UK: 1996.

Montagna, Maria Teresa et al. “Chocolate, “Food of the Gods”: History, Science, and Human Health.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,24 4960. 6 Dec. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph16244960

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