6 Things You Never Knew About Chocolate

3 minute read

There’s a brand-new attraction for chocoholics: Choco-Story, a New York City museum dedicated to the dark art and craft of chocolate, set up with renowned master chocolatier Jacques Torres. The exhibit, like its brethren in Belgium, Mexico, and elsewhere, is more a thoughtful exploration of the roots and development of chocolate-as-dessert than an all-out candy shop (although, of course, there’s plenty of chance to satiate your sweet tooth while perusing the artifacts). It also highlights some unusual trivia about the beloved pick-me-up, which has come a long way from its ancient, ritualistic roots to the treats we savor today.

TIME stopped by opening night for a preview of the museum’s multi-sensory experience—and came away with some unexpected revelations. Tour through 14 photos of the exhibit above. Here are six interesting tidbits about chocolate, all according to the museum.

There’s a reason chocolate and champagne go well together. Well, sort of. Turns out that routine champagne “cheers” actually has a chocolate-associated origin. Mayans, and later Aztecs, would place a cocoa bean in the hollow feet of their ceramic drinking vessels, and shake the vessels before drinking to frighten away evil spirits, making a chink-chink sound. Today, that tradition survives in the time-honored ritual of clinking glasses before taking a sip.

Cocoa was once used in blood sacrifices. Early Mayans would pierce or cut their earlobes or tongues and mix the blood with raw cocoa beans to offer it up as a sign of respect to their deities.

Cocoa was also used as a currency. In Mayan culture, people would trade, say, a whole rabbit for 10 of the precious and sought-after beans. (They were not yet used in their current edible or drinkable forms, but instead as an exchange currency and legal tender.)

Saucers were developed for drinking chocolate. Cups filled with drinking chocolate were prone to tipping over, so at one point a member of Spanish royalty had a ring put in the plate where the cup rested. In France, nobility enjoyed their chocolate on-the-go in a coach, leading to spills; so they developed a hole in the saucer where the cup would fit.

You can make your own flavored truffles by substituting this one ingredient. The key to chocolate truffles is the ganache filling, traditionally a combination of chocolate, cream, and butter. You can substitute the cream, though, for any other liquid—champagne, for instance, or a fruit purée—and voila: flavored truffle filling, according to Jacques Torres.

“The most difficult thing when you make chocolate is to stay clean.” That’s a quote from “Mr. Chocolate” Torres himself, who tried not to make a mess of his sharp white chef’s coat while whipping up a batch of new truffles on opening night.

The Chocolate Museum and Experience is now open to visitors, who will each be guaranteed to come away with plenty of chocolate in hand. Tickets are $15.

They museum commissioned a local Brooklyn artist to paint this outdoor mural, based on the Yucatan.Kevin Chiu
Chocolate tastings are included in the museum visit.Kevin Chiu
Curated display cases include historical artifacts that trace the history of cocoa and chocolate.Kevin Chiu
A display case includes the "drinking vessels" considered the origin of the modern-day "cheers" sound.Raisa Bruner
A South American shrunken head on display is a reminder of the cultural context into which cocoa use was born. The exhibit traced the sculptures back to Ecuadorean and Peruvian tribes called "Jivaros."Raisa Bruner
Various ingredients traditionally used for flavoring chocolate.Kevin Chiu
Historical molds used for making fancy chocolates.Raisa Bruner
When Europeans adopted chocolate for drinking, they also developed decorative cups and saucers.Kevin Chiu
The museum includes a booth for making Mayan hot chocolate in traditional style.Kevin Chiu
Here, chocolatier Jacques Torres demonstrates the making of Mayan-style hot chocolate, unsweetened.Raisa Bruner
Visits also include a chance to test out your own chocolate-making skills, if you choose.Kevin Chiu
Torres shows how to mix the ganache filling for a fancy truffle.Raisa Bruner
Visitors are guided through the process of filling molds for chocolate bars.
Chocolate bark made at the museum's workspace can be topped with different ingredients before it cools—and taken home after about 15 minutes.Raisa Bruner

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com