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. From the very beginning of its introduction to society, there has been a mystique and an appreciation for it that no other food can match. Thousands of years ago, it was used for its medicinal properties, but gradually over the ages, its appeal shifted more toward its power to satisfy as a drink and as a confection.

Once the rage among European aristocracy, its availability and affordability eventually came within reach of the common man - and the worldwide love affair began. However, even among the ranks of today's chocolate lovers, there exists a kind of stratification, with levels of addiction ranging from simple milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate candies, to the very finest hand-crafted pieces of artisan chocolate that might only be offered through a fine chocolatier.

Regardless of which end of the chocolate spectrum you might belong to, here are some fascinating facts about the delightful treat that you might never have heard before:

  1. Chocolate was used by people in the Mayan civilization as currency and was considered more valuable than gold. To maintain its value, cultivation of chocolate beans was strictly managed, so that an increase would not devalue the 'currency.'
  1. To celebrate its 100th birthday, UK chocolate giant Thornton's of London created the largest chocolate bar ever made, weighing in at an astonishing 5,792 kilograms!
  1. It is actually possible to die from eating too much chocolate because it contains a very strong stimulant called theobromine, which if ingested to excess can cause kidney failure, dehydration, seizures, and heart failure. Fortunately, in order to reach that threshold, you would have to eat about 22 lbs. of chocolate at one time.
  1. Toblerone candy bars are so enormously popular that, if the number eaten in a given year were stretched end-to-end, it would be longer than the circumference of the Earth.
  1. The very first chocolate bar ever made was in 1842 by the English company Cadbury.
  1. Research has strongly suggested that dark chocolate has some powerfully beneficial effects on humans. According to researchers, dark chocolate can improve memory functions and problem-solving abilities, increase focus, and shorten reaction time - all by increasing the flow of blood to the brain.
  1. The first chocolate chip cookie was created in 1937 by a woman who operated the Tollhouse Inn. The name survives now as a type of chocolate chip cookie, and is actually the official cookie of the state of Massachusetts.
  1. The largest amount of chocolate consumed per capita is in the country of Switzerland, with the average person consuming 22 lbs. per year.
  1. The biggest producer of chocolate in America is Hershey's, which accounts for more than one billion pounds of the confection annually.
  1. Admiral Richard Byrd left a cache behind from his trek to the South Pole, and when it was dug up 60 years later, it was found to have a Hershey bar in it - which was still edible!