We are now, at Christmas, in one of four peak chocolate periods of the year. The others are Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween.
Europeans eat about 40 percent of all chocolate produced in the world. The top five countries in terms of consumption are Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Germany and Norway, according to the World Atlas of Chocolate. The residents of those countries consume, on average, 19.6 pounds of chocolate each year. The U.S., in 11th place, averages 11.6 pounds per person.
Oddly, Asian counties do not share Western countries’ preference for chocolate confections. But things are changing.In spite of the international economic downturn of 2009, chocolate sales have increased, especially in China and the Ukraine, where they grew by 18 and 12 percent, respectively. Overall, sales have risen since 2005 and are expected to continue doing so through 2013.
A benefit of chocolate consumption, besides its tasting good, appeared in an online note of the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Franz Messerli, of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University in New York, reported finding a link between a country’s per-capita chocolate consumption and its number of Nobel Prize winners.
Sales data from 23 countries show “a surprisingly powerful correlation,” Messerli reported. Switzerland’s chocolate Nobels are top ranked. The United States is in the middle, along with the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Belgium and Germany.Messerli said chocolate’s flavonols (an antioxidant also found in green tea and red wine) can help slow down or even reverse age-related mental decline. The contention is disputed by some medical experts.
U.S. chocolate tastes have been changing over time. According to Susan Whiteside of the National Confectioners Association, preferences for premium milk chocolate products and dark chocolate are growing. That probably reflects the aging adult populations; older people who tend to like strong flavors.Still, U.S. chocolate sales increased 2.6 percent in 2009 over the previous year. Economics (meaning inflation) and demography (population growth) were as responsible for the increase as were the introduction of new products.