increasing your chocolate knowledge

This is a cornerstone post of Chocolatour and is all about chocolate and cacao. Increasing your chocolate knowledge is a terrific way to celebrate International Chocolate Day, which is celebrated throughout the world on September 13th and National Chocolate Day that is celebrated each year on October 28th.


increasing your chocolate knowledge will help you make better decisions

I’ve been studying, enjoying, and researching artisanal chocolate since 2009 and during that time, have visited more than 20 countries and cocoa plantations/farms in more than 10 of those locales. There is so much to learn about the world of chocolate and cacao culture. Pictured above is Leslie at Cylie Patisserie & Chocolaterie in Ottawa, Canada, showing off some of the beautifully artistic work of her chocolatier husband, Cyril.

Readers continue to ask me for explanations on various basics about the world of chocolate and cacao, so I’ve prepared a list for you here, which is an excerpt from Chapter One of volume I of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. If you don’t already have a copy of this award-winning book, you can purchase a hardcopy or e-copy directly from me here.


You can increase your chocolate knowledge by touring a cacao farm and seeing the cocoa pods ripening on the tree.

10 things you should know to increase your chocolate knowledge

  1. Chocolate does grow on trees. They are called Theobroma cacao trees and can be found growing in a belt around the globe, generally within 20 degrees north or south of the equator.
  2. Cacao trees are difficult to grow as they are susceptible to disease, and the pods may be eaten by insects and various vermin. The pods are harvested by hand. These factors combined, explain why pure chocolate and cocoa are so expensive.
  3. It takes at least four years before a cacao seedling will begin to produce cocoa pods. On maturity, a cacao tree may yield about 40 cocoa pods per year. Each pod may contain 30-50 cocoa beans. But it takes a lot of these beans (approximately 500 cocoa beans) to produce one pound of chocolate.
  4. There are three major types of chocolate. Dark chocolate contains the highest percentage of cocoa, generally at 70% or higher. The remaining percentage is generally sugar or some form of natural sweetener. Milk chocolate contains anywhere from 38-40% and upwards to 60% cocoa for a dark milk chocolate, with the remaining percentage comprised on milk and sugar. In the old days, white chocolate only contained cocoa butter (no cocoa mass) and sugar, often with fruit or nuts added for flavour. More recently, bean-to-bar makers have been adding a small amount of cocoa mass to reduce the sweetness and enhance the chocolate flavour of white chocolate. And they’ve also created dark milk chocolate which is a simply divine creation of dark chocolate with a small amount of milk powder added in the final stages of production.
  5. A chocolate maker is someone who makes chocolate directly from cocoa beans. A chocolatier is someone who makes chocolate using couverture, which is chocolate that has already been fermented and roasted and comes (via a commercial distributor) in tablets or disks for the chocolatier to temper and add their own flavourings to.
  6. The concept of terroir factors into the flavour of chocolate. That means that cocoa grown in one place is likely to taste different than cocoa grown in a different country (or in the case of a large country, from one part of the country to another, depending on its elevation, proximity to water, and what other plants the cocoa trees are grown alongside.)
  7. There are three major varietals of cocoa pods, and a larger number of sub-varietals. Criollo is the rarest varietal and most highly coveted for its flavour. Arriba and Nacional are variations of Criollo and considered to be the finest full-flavour, aromatic cocoa in the world. They are most often grown in South America. Trinitario is the mid-grade cacao that is a hybrid blend of Criollo and Forastero, the bulk grade cacao that is used to make 90% of the chocolate in the world.
  8. Approximately 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in West Africa, specifically the countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana. These are the countries in which the use of child labour on cocoa farms has contributed to the dark side of chocolate. Gratefully, the large companies who purchase this cocoa to make chocolate candy have changed their practices, and refused to purchase cocoa from farms where child labour was or may still be used.
  9. Chocolate is a feel-good drug. Eating a square of dark chocolate will release serotonin and endorphins into your blood stream, making you feel happier, more energetic, and perhaps more amorous.
  10. Eating pure cocoa nibs (pieces of dried cocoa beans) or a high percentage dark chocolate is good for your body. There are many health benefits associated with eating pure dark chocolate, most notably, the fact that it has the highest percentage of disease-fighting antioxidants and flavonols compared to any other power food on the planet. As well, the magnesium found in pure cocoa helps improves the quality of your sleep, so feel free to enjoy a square of your favourite dark chocolate before you lay your head to rest for the night.

This photo depicting the harvesting of cocoa in Peru shows how the harvest is a family affair, with children helping their parents out in the fields. This is not child labour! This is a family farm.

I hope these chocolate fun facts have increased your chocolate knowledge by helping you to realize that there is a big difference between chocolate candy that may only have a tiny percentage of real cocoa in it, and good quality handcrafted chocolate made by chocolate artisans. Does any of the above info surprise you? Please stay tuned, and subscribe to this site so you don’t miss any more information about the wonderful world of chocolate and cocoa culture.


Chocolate is indeed an obsession for many of us. This photo was taken at the Artisan du Chocolat shop in London, England–a great place for chocolate travel, and for learning all about chocolate.




Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I researched and wrote Volume I of Chocolatour that won a Readers' favourite Award in 2014. Always enjoy experiencing new destinations and flavours.

63 Responses

  1. Really great information,i agree to the facts 90% keep posting

  2. Bola says:

    Hi Doreen. I must admit that I didn’t know that it takes at least four years before a cacao seedling will begin to produce cocoa pods. It’s also comforting to learn that large companies have changed their trading practices.

    I am a chocolate fan but prefer drinking dark chocolate with a tinch of milk. Thanks for the reminder that dark chocolate has health benefits.

  3. Sushmita says:

    Going through you posts makes me realize I haven’t yet tried and tasted many varieties of Chocolate yet! There is a lot yet to explore looking forward to various new introductions to amazing & delicious chocolates from you. Thanks for sharing the interesting information!

  4. What a great informative post. I did not know all these facts about chocolate, and the people that make it. Now you need to generate a name for a person who blogs about it, you might be the first to come up with a name. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi William and thx for your kind comments. I believe I have been called a chocolateur (someone who has some expertise in the world of chocolate) and a chocolateer (someone who lives their life by chocolate). I’m OK with both, although I do prefer the term “Chocolate Adventurist!”

  5. Rosary says:

    Great post! There’s so much I didn’t know about chocolate considering it’s one of my favourite things in the world. Thanks for sharing these chocolate knowledge =)

  6. I like “adventures” for your next book title–but you know how I am!
    I’m glad to learn the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. I knew there was something, but didn’t know what. And yes, I did my part and had chocolate on the 13th!

  7. Doreen — thanks for the very informative post. I had no idea that is was so difficult to grow and harvest chocolate and how much raw material goes into the best chocolate. I won’t complain anymore about the price of a special box of chocolate. As for your titles, I prefer the first one. The word “adventures” is a real grabber.

    • Thx so much for your comments, Jeannette. I always value your input. I’m glad you found the post helpful. I always think I’ve previously shared this info with readers and then realize that not everyone reads everything. ‘Adventures’ it is! Cheers, and enjoy your chocolate. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Ken Dowell says:

    Thanks for the information. As per the book title, I think “Chocolate Adventures” sound more enticing than “Chocolate Knowledge.” I’m a day late, but happy International Chocolate Day!

  9. Erica says:

    Now that I’m reading this post, I wonder if I’ve ever had much good quality chocolate in my life. As a child, I ate a lot of American candy bars and as an adult, most of my chocolate is in chocolate flavored things like ice cream. (I’m actually drinking a smoothie as I read this made from chocolate protein powder. However, the taste barely resembles chocolate.) Maybe I’ll pick up one of the good quality chocolate bars next time I’m in Whole Foods and see. Oh, and like many others, I’m sorry to say that I missed World Chocolate Day.

  10. Hi Doreen, this was very helpful. Wish I had read it yesterday, I missed national chocolate day. I’ll eat twice as much chocolate today to make up for it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Got to do my part to support the chocolate industry, as difficult as that may be. Lol

    • Hi Susan. The really good thing is that there is alkways another “chocolate day” right around the corner. October 28th is National Chocolate Day here in North America, and you can plan for that! How about some kind of delectable chocolate recipe on your great site to celebrate that? ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I’ve never been a great chocolate eater, but perhaps I should have more now that I know it’s good for me!

    • That’s right, Karen. I think too many people confuse chocolate candy which is heavily laden with sugar and other additives, with really good chocolate–that is indeed the food of the gods! thx for stopping by, and I hope my post has encouraged you to explore the world of artisanal handcrafted chocolate.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…increasing your chocolate knowledgeMy Profile

  12. Those goodies at the top almost look too beautiful to eat! Of course, that would only stop me for a couple of seconds : )) Interesting facts about chocolate, didn’t realize so much cocoa came from Africa – glad to hear the companies that are making the chocolate I’m enjoying don’t employ child labour!

  13. Reading this makes me want a chocolate for breakfast!

  14. Beverly says:

    If I eat enough dark chocolate will I be as happy and positive as you Doreen?

  15. Jeri says:

    Not only is it World Chocolate Day, it’s also Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday. I wonder how knowledgeable Willy Wonka was when it came to chocolate? Haha. I remember seeing a documentary in elementary school and learning that chocolate came from trees. That was a memorable moment for me that made me think more about food in general. Also, I shared some of my sea salt dark chocolate with a ten-year-old out camping this weekends, and he was like, “This is actually pretty good. I’m used to that really sweet creamy kind.” I consider that win.

  16. I wasn’t aware of this special day, but I’m going to eat more of the Belgian chocolates that I brought home from Bruge in its honor.

  17. Did not know about International Chocolate Day, luckily I have time to go out and find some to celebrate. Thanks for the heads up… and the cool info.

  18. The information about chocolate was really informative and I truly did not know much at all. Nice to hear that the larger companies are changing their practices so that the use of child labour doesn’t continue. I take my hat off to you for all your research and writing of books on chocolate. Not an easy task I’m sure.

  19. Well done!!! I’m reposting it, can’t be said any better.

  20. Sue Reddel says:

    Perfect way to celebrate #InternationalChocolateDay. I’m off to do something good for my body – eat a lovely piece of dark chocolate. Mmmm!

  21. It’s all interesting Doreen. I always wondered about white chocolate and now I know! I’ve never been much of a chocolate eater myself, but if I’m tempted it’s by dark chocolate. A friend gave me a small box of gourmet dark chocolate dipped cherries for my birthday and what a treat that was!

  22. Thanks to your book, and your presentations, and having been with you when you interviewed a chocolatier (or was he a chocolate maker, I don’t remember), my chocolate knowledge is far greater than it was. So I feel I make better choices when I buy chocolate. I have my favourites but am always enthused when I find something new.
    I am sure it was hard to limit your list to 10 things, but they are all excellent. Happy International Chocolate Day! I have some chocolate here, but a nice walk to go and get some more is in order.

    • Hi Christine. Thx for your comment, and for being one of my favourite chocolateering buddies! Ricardo at Cao Chocolates is a chocolate maker as he works directly from the cocoa beans. I’m excited, as he is shipping me some of his newest bars. It was sure fun visiting him in Miami, wasn’t it? I shall never forget the flavour and texture of those decadent Dark Desires made with pistachios. There were amazing!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…increasing your chocolate knowledgeMy Profile

  23. I vote for: Quest for the Worldโ€™s Best Chocolate Adventures. I always learn something knew with every post and this is no exception. Congrats on your ongoing accolades. Well deserved!

  24. Like Catarina I have learned a lot about chocolate from you. I’ve read these 10 things before in your book but it was good to read them again and be reminded of a few I’d forgotten (like the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier). Happy Chocolate Day.

  25. I’ve always known that chocolate came from the cacao trees, but I never consciously thought, chocolate grows on trees. For some reason of all the interesting facts you shared, that absolutely tickles me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thx, Debra. I kind of put that in tongue-in-cheek, but it’s true isn’t it? So many times we eat or enjoy something, never taking the time to think about where it came from. Until I started researching chocolate, I didn’t know the difference between Hawaiian-made chocolate and Hawaiian-grown chocolate. Now I know, and I’m happy to share that info with my readers. Enjoy!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…increasing your chocolate knowledgeMy Profile

  26. Michele Peterson says:

    A timely post! Thanks for the comprehensive wrap up of everything a person needs to begin their chocolate explorations. On your title – I love the word “adventures” rather than “knowledge” as one implies experiences rather than facts. And chocolate is fun, heady, delicious, sensual and so much more than an ingredient …as you always demonstrate.

  27. Laurel Sarginson says:

    So glad to hear about International Chocolate day! Co-incidentally, I have just purchased some chili chocolate, which I believe you introduced me to, and am in fine shape to celebrate ..

  28. Catarina says:

    Have to admit I had not idea it’s international chocolate day today. As a tribute to you I would like to say that I have learnt a lot about chocolate from you. Glad chocolate isn’t an obsession of mine though since, like Hillary Clinton, I have an underactive thyroid and should hence avoid sugar completely. Boring for someone with a sweet tooth but what can I do?:-)

    • Hi Catarina, and thanks for stopping by. I’m glad to learn that you find my posts informative and interesting. Sorry you can’t enjoy chocolate for health reasons, but don’t forget that there are now many chocolate makers offering chocolate bars of 100% cacao. NO sugar added. You might like to check out some of those. Hotel Chocolat of London definitely has one and I know that they offer their products online. Cheers!

  29. Phoenicia says:

    I need to get thee to West Africa! How interesting that I plan to visit a West African country in 2017.

    I love eating chocolate especially dark chocolate. It is so rich and luxurious. So much goes into making chocolate. I often take it for granted that it is available on the shelf in just about any store.

    • Hi Phoenicia and thanks for your comment. Which country in Africa are you visiting next year? It is definitely on my list for volume III of Chocolatour. Cheers, and I hope you will enjoy a piece of chocolate today in honour of International Chocolate Day. ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. Sabrina Quairoli says:

    Interesting facts, I didn’t realize that “70% of the worldโ€™s cacao is grown in West Africa”. Wow. Thanks for sharing these facts.

    • You’re very welcome, Sabrina. Sometimes, I think that I’ve shared this info over and over. But then I’ve got to realize that I share info via my book, my blog, freelance articles, social media and talks I give. So I don’t always disseminate the same info to people I connect with via the different platforms.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…increasing your chocolate knowledgeMy Profile

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