The chocolate that we all know and love is made from the seeds, or beans, of the Cocoa Tree (Theobroma cacao). This small evergreen tree is native to tropical America. The genus name Theobroma means "food of the gods", which most would agree is quite appropriate! The beans are contained within pods that grow on the trunk and older branches. A tree begins producing pods at four to five years old, and averages 20 pods a year. About 300 to 600 beans are needed to produce one kilogram of chocolate. The beans are roasted and the shells are removed, resulting in a product called "nibs". The nibs are ground into chocolate liquor or cocoa paste. This product is then further processed into either chocolate or cocoa powder.
The flavonoids in chocolate have been shown to have beneficial cardiovascular health effects in humans. Darker chocolate has more flavonoids and is thus a better choice for health reasons, but because of chocolate's high fat content it is best not to overindulge. Unfortunately, the theobromine in chocolate is detrimental to many animals, including dogs and cats, who should never be fed chocolate.
So remember, savoring a little chocolate on a regular basis is actually good for you, but do not share this sweet treat with your animal companions!