Idaho Woman Teaches History Of Chocolate

May 5, 2015

You eat it all the time, but how much do you really know about chocolate? One Moscow woman is working to educate Idahoans about this fascinating food and will host a seminar on the subject Wednesday night in Twin Falls.

Chocolate has been used as a form of currency, medicine - even an aphrodisiac. The average American eats 12 pounds of it a year, yet Dr. Lauren Fins says many of us know little about its hundreds of years of history.

When she was a University of Idaho professor of forestry, Fins received a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Costa Rica and create a graduate level course on chocolate. Now that she’s retired, she gives a seminar on her favorite subject whenever asked.

Fins says when she went to Costa Rica, she found chocolate farms to be fairly small.

“They’re usually 2 and a half acres," she says. "So there are thousands and thousands of small landowners that grow cacao."

Fins says farmers space out their cacao trees so they know where each tree is and to collect the seeds that are used to make chocolate.

Cacao pods come in many shapes and sizes.
Credit Dr. Lauren Fins

Fins' chocolate discussions include the history, culture, and importance of the food.

“Chocolate was important enough that in Mesoamerica, among the Maya and the Aztecs, it had its own glyph, like a hieroglyph. It had its own symbol that looks like a fish,” she says.

She also touts the benefits of chocolate.

“It’s actually a food that’s good for you,” she says, “if you’re eating the right chocolate.”

Fins says chocolate should have a high percentage of cacao and a lower percentage of sugar.

“There are lots of antioxidants in chocolate that are good for you. I wouldn’t say it’s a health food exactly, but there appear to be some benefits to eating chocolate.”

Fins also studies and teaches about chocolate's origins.  Hawaii is the only U.S. state where chocolate is grown, and she says most chocolate undergoes a long process before reaching American consumers as a confection. 

Fins is holding her latest seminar on chocolate Wednesday at the Herrett Forum at the College of Southern Idaho. She’ll bring along sipping chocolate and some of her favorite chocolate bars for everyone to try. The event is free.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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