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“Chocolate: The Exhibition” at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia a sweet experience

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STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
bbingaman@thereporteronline.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Just in time for Halloween, Hanukkah and Christmas comes an exhibit with everything you’d ever want to know about chocolate.
“For 3,000 years, chocolate was a drink,” said Rodney Snyder, Mars Chocolate North America’s chocolate history research director. Mars is the presenting sponsor of the new “Chocolate: The Exhibition” at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Originally a tropical rain forest plant, then used as currency by the Aztecs, dubbed “food of the gods” (what the cacao tree’s scientific name translates to in English) and today a $50 billion-a-year worldwide business, chocolate may be the ultimate sweet treat. But how did it get that way?
Find out through Jan. 24 at the Academy, which is on Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Parkway. But “Chocolate: The Exhibition” is not a just a history lesson. Chocolate’s global impact is examined through the lenses of botany, ecology, anthropology, economics and popular culture.
“People don’t appreciate that there’s a lot of science behind chocolate,” said the Academy’s vice-president for collections, Dr. Ted Daeschler, at a media preview event for the exhibit.
Examine cacao seed pods up close. Learn about a tiny insect called a midge, which the Academy’s scientists believe is the only creature that pollinates the cacao tree (no midge, no chocolate), which grows in the shade of larger trees. Find out what happened after Spanish explorer Hernan Cortés brought chocolate back to Europe in the 16th century. Check out special drinking vessels the Mayans used for chocolate. Through touch-screen animation and videos, go through the process it takes to make a chocolate bar (The chocolate bar has an interesting history of its own) and find out where people harvest the most cacao and eat the most chocolate. The vintage candy advertising, packages and chocolate powder tins are worth a long look too.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of cacao pods which grow on trees like this replica in "Chocolate: The Exhibition." Photo by The Field Museum.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of cacao pods which grow on trees like this replica in “Chocolate: The Exhibition.” Photo by The Field Museum.

Upcoming special related programming includes:
Sustainable Chocolate Day: From noon to 2 p.m. Nov. 2, get your hands on a box of treats you can dip, one by one, into a variety of melted chocolates provided by the academy’s 12th Street Catering. Learn how to recycle leftover Halloween chocolate into fondue and find out more about the different types of chocolate. Cost is $8 per person in addition to regular museum admission.
Hot Chocolate Bar: It’ll be open noon to 2 p.m. Nov. 28–30 and Dec. 27–30. Choose from a variety of flavors and 20 toppings. Participants will learn how cocoa is made and “dutched,” the role of cocoa butter in the flavor. Cost is $6.95 in addition to regular museum admission.
Beer and Chocolate Tasting: This reception 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 15 offers a sweet-to-savory menu and a beer expert to guide you. Chefs from 12th Street Catering will impart tips on cooking and baking with different varieties of chocolate and cocoa. Chocolate tasting includes bitter to intense and single-origin chocolate and cocoa powder through responsibly sourced cocoa. You must be 21 or older. Tickets are $35. Register at www.ansp.org.
As you would do when you eat chocolate, take your time and savor all the interactive elements and artifacts.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Chocolate: The Exhibition.”
WHEN: Through Jan. 24.
WHERE: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia.
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
ADMISSION: There is a $5 additional fee to the regular admission prices of $15.95, $13.95 for children 3-12, seniors, students and military personnel, free for members and children under 3.
INFO: Call (215) 299-1000 or visit www.ansp.org. Tweet @AcadNatSci.

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