Reese’s, Hershey, Snickers, oh my!

Shelley Blundell

The story behind that V-Day treat — chocolate

This Valentine’s Day, while some of us pause to enjoy the gooey delights of true love, let us take a moment to contemplate the treat that makes such revelry possible — chocolate.

Born in the heart of Central and South America, evidence of cocoa plantations was found in the Yucatan region of Mexico as early as 4,000 years ago.

But the chocolate used in ancient Mayan ceremonies was far from the tasty confection we know today. It was a bitter, pasty drink used during religious ceremonies and possibly as an aphrodisiac.

Chocolate, or “xocoatl,” found its way to Europe when Hernando Cortez brought it to Spain after the conquest of the Aztecs. There, it was hidden in Spanish monasteries and became one of Spain’s most closely guarded and profitable secrets.

It was here that the chocolate drink was sweetened with sugar, cinnamon and other spices.

The sweet secret leaked out as Spain’s power declined, and chocolate houses soon became a meeting point for the wealthier members of society all over Europe.

During the Industrial Revolution, the invention of chocolate refineries and presses allowed the drink to be solidified and produced in bite-size pieces. It also made chocolate cheaper and available to all classes.

Chocolate consumption grew, and its inclusion in other foods such as cakes and pastries became popular. It was also touted as an energy boost and a cure for common ailments such as lethargy.

Its popularity has lasted to the present day — annual world consumption of cocoa beans is more than 600,000 tons a year, according to

Amanda Pitman, an employee of the Chocolate Shack in Kent, said people of all ages come into the store with a variety of tastes.

“Everybody eats a little of everything, so I can’t really pick one particular type of ‘favorite’ chocolate,” Pitman said. “We sell a lot of buckeyes (a peanut butter ball covered with chocolate) and jellybeans, but on the whole, people just like chocolate.”

And no matter which is your “favorite favorite,” chocolate is the perfect cure for those lonely-on-Valentine’s-Day blues — so indulge yourself!

Contact general assignment reporter Shelley Blundell at [email protected].