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Chocolate exhibit in S.L. educates on its history

By Nkoyo Iyamba  |  Posted Feb 9th, 2014 @ 9:56pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — From the ancient rainforest to the supermarket shelves, an exhibit about chocolate is making a stop in Utah.

Utah has a small but rich history in chocolate. That's just one of several facts in a history lesson about chocolate featured at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Researchers hope once visitors see the exhibit, they’ll never look at chocolate the same again.

From the smallest mouths to grown-up taste buds, most of the world loves to eat and drink chocolate.

But researchers say the chocolate we consume today is completely different from its roots in ancient times as a sweet fruit in Mexico and South America.

“They actually developed it into a drink from the bean and that's apparently where they learned to dry it, roast it, grind it up and then use it as a food and a drink,” archaeologist Glenna Nielsen-Grimm said.

Nielsen-Grimm said the almond-looking cacao, or chocolate seeds, were bitter so farmers would grow them with flavors like vanilla and honey to sweeten it.

She also said Aztec warriors would consume it for energy before a hunt.

“They could hike for two days just from the energy the cacao beans, the cacao, gave them,” Nielsen-Grimm said.

Soon chocolate moved northward in America and to Europe.

Researchers dated one of the earliest evidences of cacao in southeastern Utah to around 750 AD. It became very valuable.

“If I wanted some eggs or if I wanted something else somebody was making, I could offer them cacao beans,” Nielsen-Grimm said.

She added that when chocolate hit European countries, it transformed into what we see on the store shelves today — very little chocolate.

“It's got mostly sugar, mostly butter, cocoa butter in it and then a little bit of roasted chocolate in it and a lot of flavorings like vanilla or orange or something like that in it,” Nielsen-Grimm said.

Now with this exhibit, Utah chocolate experts are trying to help get chocolate back to its roots.

“And why quality chocolate is really important and what cacao means,” said Chantelle Bourdeaux of A Priori Specialty Food distribution. “The percentages in cacao (are) the difference between a white-blonde to dark chocolate and the different pricing on that.”

Bourdeaux is working with local restaurants and stores to educate Utahns about chocolate and its value to the economy.

“People are sometimes a little hesitant to want to purchase a quality bar of chocolate because of the price,” she said.

Chocolate creators hope Utahns will have a new appreciation for the chocolate.

“It comes down to it, it makes you feel good,” Nielsen-Grimm said.

The Chocolate Exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah will run through June 1.

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