Chocolate: The Exhibition opens Saturday

Sit on a sweet!
Sit on a sweet!

Sure, the Ben Franklin exhibit was thorough and the traveling Vatican display was lavish, but the Minnesota History Center has really piqued our interest with its upcoming exhibit devoted entirely to chocolate.

Chocolate: The Exhibition (catchy name) opens Saturday and walks visitors through the history of chocolate, beginning with the ancient Mayans in early America and evolving to today's cacao mega-farms in Africa. Who knew the seeds of the cacao tree acted as money in the ancient world? Or that the scientific name for the cacao tree (theobroma) means "food of the gods?" That's the kind of knowledge you can drop after a lap through this decadent new display.

On loan from the Field Museum, the exhibit traces chocolate's trip from a bitter, spicy beverage consumed by rich Mayans and Aztecs to the introduction of sugar (thanks, Spaniards!) and its evolution from beverage to bar. A section on 20th-century candy features old wrappers and tins many visitors will recognize, and the exhibit also addresses the damage done to the rainforest because of the desire to plant cacao trees (chocolate is a $13 billion industry, after all).

What else can you learn? Try these facts on for size:

  • Europeans eat more chocolate than Americans despite what our waistbands say; we chomp on 12 pounds of chocolate per person per year, while Germans and Swiss eat around 24 pounds. In contrast, the Chinese eat just 1.8 ounces per person annually.
  • Despite it's orgins in the Americas, Africa is the source of 2/3 of the world's cacao.
  • Theobromine, a stimulant that's natural in chocolate, can't be processed by dogs
  • Chocolate's biggest holiday is Valentine's Day, which has Americans spending $1 billion on the sweets.
  • The exhibit is bilingual, with text in both English and Spanish, opens Saturday and--hello!--it's all chocolate all the time. What more do you need? Tickets are $10 adults, $8 seniors/students, $5 children 6-17 (standard museum admission). Saturday's opening features a Family Day program that offers Aztec dancing, samples of local chocolates and a take-home art activity for kids.

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