Loco for cocoa

Autumn is a sensory season. There's crisp air to inhale, the blaze of red and orange leaves to view, and the taste of tart McIntosh apples fresh from the tree.

The State Museum's newest exhibit might just throw our already heightened senses into overdrive, as it draws us into the history and economics of chocolate.

I didn't realize all I didn't know about chocolate, the museum's director, Cliff Siegfried, said about the exhibit that comes from Chicago's Field Museum. "Romance is associated with chocolate, chocolate is popular at the holidays, and of course, there are chocoholics. The topics in the exhibit will appeal to a broad range of visitors. I hope they'll be blown away by the number of figures they find here."

Siegfried particularly liked the blend of natural science, history and economics in the exhibit, all presented through a number of techniques. There's a fabricated cacao tree, for instance, that shows how the nuts grow directly on the trunk and branches. There are interactive areas in each part of the exhibit, a number of artifacts from the Aztecs, and some information panels.

The exhibit will trace the origins of chocolate in the rainforest; explain how the Mayans turned the bitter seeds into a spicy drink; and an interactive Aztec marketplace shows how beans from a cacao tree were a powerful trading tool. A jump to the present day will let visitors learn about cocoa's value in today's trading markets. Between the Aztecs and the modern day, visitors to the state museum will see how Europeans came to love chocolate.

"I never stopped to think about development, how chocolate in Europe fueled the slave trade, since sugar was needed to sweeten it," Siegfried said.

An exhibit about chocolate without a taste of the sweet stuff would be unfairly tempting, so you may want to stop by on a Wednesday, when there will be complimentary chocolate for everyone with a ticket to the exhibit.

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