Over the centuries, chocolate has earned a reputation as an aphrodisiac and an ingredient in witchcraft. Human beings recognized the importance of the cacao plant 5,300 years ago, and it’s played an important role in civilization ever since. The ancient Mayans fermented the sugary fruit pulp into cacao wine and brewed ground cacao nibs into a potent, bitter hot chocolate. For the Aztecs, cacao beans were so culturally important that they were used as currency. When the emperor Montezuma II first introduced Hernán Cortés and the other conquistadors to cacao, they were initially skeptical, then soon won over.
While much of the chocolate supply still winds up in candy bars and hot cocoa, humanity has developed a number of more eccentric ways to celebrate it. There are an alarming number of mammoth chocolate fountains and waterfalls—including a 20-footer in Anchorage, Alaska—and delicious reminders of chocolate’s importance and history abound, from the warm brownies served at the restaurant that invented them to steaming mugs of fermented cacao with ancho chiles served at a Mexico City establishment.