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  everything you ever wanted to know about chocolate
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History of chocolate

People have been consuming chocolate in various forms for thousands of years. Made from the seeds of the Cacao tree -- cocoa beans chocolate was first used to make delicious beverages. The early Mayans and Aztecs cultivated the Cacao trees and drank liquid chocolate on a regular basis.

When Spanish explorers visited South America, they took the beans back to Europe where they made a sweetened version of the drink. Their modified chocolate had sugar and sometimes vanilla and soon people across the continent were enjoying chocolate.

Once the delicious beverage became common, bakers started experimenting with cocoa, the dried, powdered form of chocolate. The first chocolate cake was documented in the 17th century and other chocolate treats followed soon after. The first modern-style chocolate bar was produced in England in the 1800s, starting an entire chocolate candy industry. In Switzerland, the technique for making chocolate was modified to add dried milk to the cocoa butter, producing the milk chocolate that is enjoyed today.

How chocolate is made

So, how is modern chocolate actually made? The seeds of the Cacao tree are removed from their pods, fermented and roasted. In the finest chocolates, the seeds are sun dried for about a week. They are ground up into very fine bits during a process called "conching." This grinding process takes hours and causes the chocolate's smooth texture. When the ground solids are combined with sugar, it produces chocolate candy. Additional ingredients such as milk, vanilla or other flavorings may also be added.

Once the chocolate is blended, it is still fairly delicate and does not have all the properties most people look for in their favorite treat. In order to achieve the proper consistency and texture, chocolate must be heated, then slowly cooled, then heated and cooled again. This process creates the crisp and shiny product we expect. During its final heating stage, it is in a liquid form. It can be put in molds to shape it into bars, chips, chunks and other shapes; when it cools, it hardens. It should not be overheated since it may scorch or cooled too quickly since it can become grainy in texture.

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