NEW YORK - Everyone knows America loves chocolate.
No wonder the industry pulled in about $12.9 billion in 1999 retail sales, according to Chocolate Manufacturers Association figures.
Chocolate comes from the cocoa beans that were cultivated on plantations by the Mayan Indians of Central America as early as A.D. 600, says Cindy Webb, Stratham, N.H.-based retail marketing manager for Lindt, a Swiss chocolate company.
Early societies of Central America used the beans as a form of money, and they also attributed a variety of mystical powers to the substance.
According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, Christopher Columbus took chocolate back to the court of King Ferdinand of Spain, after his 1502-1504 trip to the New World.
So, whats important for die-hard chocolate lovers to notice? Location, location, location.
The place of origin of the bean is appearing more often on chocolate labels, says Sylvie Douce, co-founder of the New York Chocolate Show.
The gold standard for chocolate starts with beans from Venezuela. "Its like wine from Bordeaux," said Douce.
Specialists at the most recent show estimated that the worlds most expensive chocolate is sold by La Maison du Chocolat, at about $55 per pound. This chain of chocolate boutiques with stores in Paris, New York and Japan hand-selects Venezuelan beans for its truffles. Godiva, by comparison, sells assorted chocolates at about $37 a pound.
How do you recognize a superior chocolate?
Start by taking a look. "Its appearance should be nice and shiny," Lindt chocolatier Hans Mazenauer says. Then smell it. "It should have that nice cocoa aroma."
Then comes the fun part. Take a bite. "The chocolate should snap," he says. "A good chocolate should always have crack when you bite into it. And it should not leave a waxy feeling on your tongue. You should have a clean palate."
The chocolate melts on the tongue, with body temperature. Thats when taste takes over, and thats the best part.