The moment Mexico’s Mayan and Aztec populations combined the fruit from the cacao tree with honey, chili peppers, and water several thousand years ago, they knew they’d hit on something special. From those humble beginnings, the thick and frothy drink they created — called “chocolhaa” or “xocolatl,” depending on the region — has gone on to become an integral and beloved part of our culinary landscape, and one of the most popular foods in the world.

Once established, the decadent and luxurious flavor we now know as chocolate spread around the globe, traveling from its birthplace in Latin America to Europe, and then throughout Asia and the rest of the Americas. Wherever it went, it quickly became the flavor of choice for those looking for a rich, velvety, creamy, yet bittersweet flavor unlike anything anyone had ever tasted. And that passion for chocolate lives on to this day!

Harry & Davi truffles on a wooden board.

6 sweet reasons to love chocolate

1. Infinite possibilities

Vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, peanut butter, and fruit flavors like strawberry or cherry all have a firm footing in the dessert world. Still, when it comes to sheer versatility and the multitude of ways it can be used, chocolate stands above all else. It comes in incredible bars and squares, of course, but you can also enjoy the treat as ganache-filled truffles, melted fondue, or luscious mousse. Spread it with nuts, dried fruits, or seeds, eat it as a bark, or use it as a wondrous coating for everything from nuts and popcorn to strawberries, apples, bananas, and even ice cream bars. Today, we’ve even got exquisite organic, vegan, direct-trade chocolate that’s good for the planet and the workers producing it. Talk about an all-around great food.

MORE: The Complete Guide to Chocolate

2. A baker’s dream

In addition to chocolate in its purest candy form, this dark, luscious wonder food is also one of the most widely used “sweets” in the world of baking, possibly coming after just sugar itself as the star ingredient in an endless parade of baked delights. In addition to chocolate cakes and chocolate-stuffed cookies, you also have brownies, fudge, chocolate muffins, cocoa-fueled donuts, savory chocolate croissants, babkas, tarts, scones, eclairs, puddings, piescheesecake, and more…So. Much. More. You could eat a different moist, sweet, and chocolate-packed confection every day for years and still never run out of options!

3. The “Good-for-You” dessert

Chocolate is the rare indulgence that’s just as good for the body as it is for the taste buds, especially when eaten in its darkest form (and in moderation). Rich and intense, with an almost blackish hue, dark chocolate is brimming with antioxidants and flavonoids that protect against disease. Studies show that eating dark chocolate regularly may boost heart health, improve blood flow, and help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.

Dark chocolate is also proven to aid in brain function, enhancing cognitive ability and memory. It reduces inflammation in the body, promotes healthier skin, lowers risk of stroke, improves sleep quality, and can even help boost mood and fight off the debilitating effects of stress. Eating dark chocolate just makes us that much happier and more at peace in the world, and our bodies recognize that pleasure and benefit from it.

4. A pop culture — and geographic — juggernaut

Outside the kitchen, chocolate is more than just a modern cultural force — it’s a behemoth. It’s spurred thousands of different books, both fiction and nonfiction. It’s a source of inspiration for movies of all types, from period dramas to family classics, such as that tale of a super-inventor and lover of chocolate, and his incredible factory of wonders. Countless songs have been written about chocolate, from viral memes to legitimate bops. In the United States, cities like Hershey, PA, San Francisco, and New York City are home to whole industries dedicated to celebrating this mouthwatering delight.

And lest we forget the historical and cultural significance of this extraordinary food: More than 60 different museums worldwide are dedicated exclusively to telling the chocolate story. (Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, and the U.S. are each home to more than five chocolate museums on their own!)

5. Record-breaking popularity

Chocolate consumption around the world continues to soar. Americans may gorge an average of over 9 pounds of chocolate per year, but that’s nothing compared to the Swiss, who more than double that consumption. Folks who live in this chocolate mecca eat the most chocolate per capita: 19.8 pounds per person per year.

There are dozens upon dozens of different world records involving chocolate as well.

In Brazil, a chocolatier created the world’s largest chocolate sculpture, which clocked in at more than 23,000 pounds. A French salon holds the world record for the largest showcase of chocolate dresses (23!), while a Texas sweet shop set the record for the world’s largest chocolate truffle (2,368 pounds).

Wondering about the world’s tallest chocolate fountain (12 feet), largest chocolate coin (1,400 pounds), largest chocolate rabbit (8,488 pounds), or biggest hot chocolate tasting event (2,106 people)?

6. Made to be enjoyed

The melting point of chocolate is just below the average human body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and that is one more reason why we all love chocolate so much. When you hold chocolate in your mouth as you chew, you feel that exquisite silkiness as it softens and transforms from a solid to a smooth, molten mass on your tongue. Plus, dark chocolate, in particular, is also a treat for the tongue from a taste perspective, hitting our sweet and bitter taste bud receptors and bringing hints of sourness and even saltiness to its flavor profile. Combined with that fruity, floral, and earthy aroma, chocolate is literally a feast for all our senses.

Have you enjoyed your favorite chocolate treat today?

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Brian Good is a writer, editor, and project manager with more than 20 years experience in publishing. He's written for some of the country’s biggest magazine brands including Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Shape, Men's Health, Muscle & Fitness, US Weekly, AARP: The Magazine, and websites including Mashed, Health Digest, DiversityInc and others. Good specializes on topics including lifestyle, travel, pop culture, health, food and nutrition, spirits, products, politics, and activism.

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