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Since candy is popular on Valentine's Day, let's find out where chocolate comes from

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Today is Valentine's Day. It's a day for love and delights, roses and chocolate. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg will take chocolate any day. And this year, in Los Angeles, she found a museum that salutes her passion. It's at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in the oldest part of LA, where there's an exhibition of photographs showing vivid, luscious-looking chocolate being prepared.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: I have a dear friend who never eats chocolate. He says it makes him short.

Who in the world doesn't like chocolate?

MAITE GOMEZ-REJON: No one.

STAMBERG: Definitive. Then curator Maite Gomez-Rejon reconsiders.

GOMEZ-REJON: Well, actually, I do know a handful of people that don't like chocolate. But that would not be me.

STAMBERG: Same for co-curator Jimenez Martin (ph) and moi. Dark is their preference; Hershey's Kisses mine. Curator Jimenez's is liquid.

JIMENEZ MARTIN: Hot chocolate.

STAMBERG: That's the Mexican way, as drinks, has been for hundreds of years, mostly prepared by women, with dozens of variations, often in celebration.

MARTIN: My favorite story here is, as wedding gifts, the groom's family makes the chocolate paste and offers these wheels of chocolate to the bride as a family coming together.

STAMBERG: The ancient - this is before Starbucks, you understand - would foam their drinks.

GOMEZ-REJON: The foam was the essence of the chocolate, what connected the drinker to the gods. So if it didn't have foam, it was not good. It was a drink reserved for aristocracy and nobility. It was only the very, very wealthy could actually consume it.

STAMBERG: In precolonial Mexico, cacao seeds were actually used as currency. Maite says even when it made its way to Europe, only the rich could afford it.

GOMEZ-REJON: It wasn't until the 19th century that a candy bar was invented in Victorian England that everything changed.

STAMBERG: Queen Victoria was a chocoholic. Europe, then America, added various things to the original bitter drink, sugar, milk, orange, jasmine.

GOMEZ-REJON: We've only been eating chocolate like that for about 200 years.

STAMBERG: How come it took so long to get to Asia?

GOMEZ-REJON: I don't know.

STAMBERG: But she does know how chocolate brings back her childhood.

GOMEZ-REJON: Summers at the beach, my mom used to always buy a little bag of Hershey's Kisses and put them on our pillows every single night. And we would eat them after lunch, when we were watching TV, before going to the beach. Hershey's Kisses has a very special place in my heart.

STAMBERG: In Los Angeles, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENGUIN CAFE'S "MORE MILK (BONUS TRACK)")

STAMBERG: At the end, they gave me a chocolate bar. And I'm going to taste it now. It's got a very intense smell. It doesn't smell like Hershey's Kisses at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPER TEARING)

STAMBERG: And I'm opening it. Here we go. This is definitely not milk chocolate. It's somewhere very well situated between milk and dark. It's a good mixture. Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. Go eat some chocolate.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Well, I always take Susan Stamberg's advice, especially when the advice is go eat chocolate. So I'm going to find some now. I don't know how I don't have any around me. Asma, are you doing the same?

KHALID: Oh, I can totally give you some because...

FADEL: You have some?

KHALID: I keep it legitimately in my drawer here at the office. Dark chocolate with almonds. There you go.

FADEL: I'm a milk chocolate kind of woman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Stamberg
Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.
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