Oh, chocolate, we heart you. It’s estimated that sales of the dark, sensuous comestible rake in some $20 billion each year in the U.S. alone. Valentine’s Day, of course, brings a huge spike in chocolate sales as lovers reach for boxes filled with Theobroma cacao-flavored nuggets.
Las Vegas is a major destination for Valentine’s Day trips and a town where tons of cacao-based products are purveyed year-round. So it’s perfect that the Springs Preserve has opened Chocolate: The Exhibition, an informative installation that traces the history of cacao from ancient Mesoamerica to our modern day commodities exchanges.
The exhibit begins on the natural side, with a (faux) cacao tree and images of the jungle creatures that are essential to its native life cycle, from flower-pollinating midges to seed-dispersing capuchin monkeys. From there, though, it’s all human desire that drives chocolate’s trajectory. Displays feature replicas of Mayan grinding stones and drinking vessels from the millennia when chocolate was a bitter, frothy liquid.
The hall moves into the era of the Aztecs, the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the exportation of chocolate to Europe. Sugar is added, and suddenly the earthy beverage is served sweetly in dainty ceramic cups to the likes of Marie Antoinette and Goethe. Solid chocolate bars follow later. The exhibit’s color really pops with cases filled with imaginative packages from chocolatiers of the 19th century and beyond. It ends with glimpses into the modern trade, at how seed pods are harvested and how West Africa has become the source of much of the world’s cacao.
The impressive exhibit was created by the Field Museum in Chicago—one of the world’s great archival institutions—with support from the National Science Foundation. Importantly for local cacao-loving science buffs, the exhibit is supported by the Vegas Valley’s very own Ethel M Chocolates.
Chocolate: The Exhibition Through May 3, Springs Preserve.