One night, I came across the Web sites of some boutique chocolatiers -- companies who make chocolate candy in small batches and have a lot of passion for their product. I love chocolate, and I'm an adventurous eater, so I ended up ordering an assortment of bonbons with unusual flavors. Each one was yummy, but the real standout was a truffle filled with salted caramel fudge and chipotle chile, covered in a layer of popping candy. Eating it was an experience.

Of course, these chocolates are a special treat, but I can definitely appreciate a basic candy bar grabbed in the checkout aisle, too. At the end of a long, stressful day, some people think about unwinding with a glass of wine or a beer, but I think about a nice piece of chocolate. Preferably dark, so I feel like it's at least a little bit good for me.

Of course my affection for chocolate isn't anything special -- not everyone adores it or goes for crazy flavors, but most people at least like it. That's why it might surprise you to read this quote from a 16th century Spanish Jesuit missionary describing chocolate as "loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste" [Source:Authentic Maya]. That's not the chocolate I know and love!

Although chocolate has been eaten since at least 1400 B.C., the way we eat it is a relatively recent invention. Ever taken a bite of unsweetened baking chocolate? Gross. Just try to imagine sipping a hot, frothy drink made of the stuff, maybe with some ground chili peppers for flavor. It's not something I'd look forward to as a treat, but that's how the Mesoamericans were enjoying it.

Europeans later added sugar and milk, but they were still drinking chocolate instead of eating it until the Industrial Revolution. If entrepreneurs hadn't figured out how to process it further to make it easier to eat (and less expensive), chocolate may not be as universal as it is today. Can you imagine? Americans eat up to 12 pounds of chocolate every year, but we aren't the winners by far when it comes to chocolate consumption -- that honor goes to the Swiss, who wolf down 22 pounds a year [source: World Atlas of Chocolate].