"York has had chocolate and confectionery at its heart for more than 150 years."
What is it with our love of chocolate? Is it the rich, velvety flavour, that melt-in-your-mouth loveliness, or its sheer, indulgent deliciousness? Either way, the average Brit munches their way through more than 11kg of chocolate a year and the UK chocolate industry is worth some £3.6 billion.
The Mayan Indians of southern Mexico first consumed chocolate as a drink more than 2,000 years ago, but before they discovered this delicious beverage, the humble cocoa bean was being used as a form of currency - 10 beans would get you a small rabbit, and one bean would get you a turkey egg. While its monetary value may have changed since then, its desirability is stronger than ever in 2012 - so with that in mind, Explorer goes on the hunt for some of the most tempting chocolate treats around.
Putting the York into Yorkie
The historic city of York will soon be going chocolate-crazy with an exciting new attraction and its first Chocolate Festival. Opening this spring, The Sweet History of York will celebrate the city's famed chocolate-making heritage. Not only did it give us the Yorkie bar, but it also gave us the Kit Kat, Smarties, the Aero and that Christmas stocking favourite, Terry's Chocolate Orange.
The brainchild of attraction group Continuum, Sweet History will be located on King's Square and will treat visitors to the inside story of the famous sweets that started their lives here. An immersive experience, with plenty of opportunities to, ahem, interact with the chocolate, it will include a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of the amazing men and women who did all that confectionery concocting from the 19th century up to the present day.
'York has had chocolate and confectionery at its heart for more than 150 years,' explains Julia Delaney, chief executive of the Continuum group.
'This is a tale as important as any to that of York and the UK's industrial and cultural heritage, yet it remains untold until now.'
Meanwhile, in April York celebrates its sweet-toothed heritage with a four-day Chocolate Festival which focuses on local artisans and chocolatiers. There will be a Chocolate Market, as well as workshops, product development information and plenty of irresistible chocolate tastings.
Elsewhere, commercial chocolate fountain pioneer Chocolate Delight will be bringing its famous chocolate workshops to various locations across the network throughout spring. Not only will you learn all about the history and production processes of chocolate, from the cocoa bean to tasty treat, but you'll also be shown how to create up to 50 Belgian truffles from scratch. And, given that it was among the first companies to introduce chocolate fountains to the UK, your experience also affords you the opportunity to indulge yourself in delicious fountain goodness. Workshop locations include:
Leeds (31 March/28 April/2 June)
Liverpool (24 March/19 May/17 June)
Manchester (7 April/12 May/16 June)
Newcastle (18 March/5 May/9 June).
Don't let me out!
Over in Sheffield, the owners of chocolate emporium Cocoa provide a dream come true for chocoholics everywhere - a lock-in, in a chocolate shop! Inspired by the stuff of childhood dreams - a midnight feast - the Chocolate Lock In involves three hours of chocolate, cakes, sweets and unlimited hot chocolate in the lavishly decorated Chocolate Lounge or the Butterfly Boudoir.
'They're really popular events,' says Cocoa co-owner Kate Shepherd, who took over the business with her friend Anne White in 2004, after working in the shop while they were students. 'We get a lot of hen parties, birthdays and baby showers.'
Further north, the 1657 Chocolate House in Kendal is a haven of tempting treats. Originally a private home, the Chocolate House has also been a bakery, a ladies' dress shop and a travel agent. Today, however, it purveys chocolate in all its glorious forms, sold to you by staff in period costume. The Chocolate House's speciality chocolate drinks (18 different flavours) and dishes (14 types of handmade gateaux alone) have period-inspired names such as the Nell Gwynne (an orange-based cake and/or drink) and the Old Nowll (an almond-tinted drink).
So whether you're a fully fledged chocoholic, a closet cocoa fiend or just know someone who is, there are plenty of opportunities to indulge...
Some curious facts about the world's favourite sweet treat
The world's biggest chocolate bar was made by Thorntons in 2011 to celebrate its 100th birthday, measuring 4x4 metres and weighing almost 6 tonnes. Meanwhile, Belgian chocolate maker Guylian made the world's biggest Easter egg in 2005. It stood at 8.32 metres high and was 6.39 metres wide.
Think of it as therapy
Chocolate is a natural anti-depressant as it produces the mood-lifting chemical serotonin and helps raise endorphin levels. Studies have shown that dark chocolate can help relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety.
It's a health food
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is rich in antioxidants and can help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. It does not raise cholesterol levels and also contains essential nutrients such as copper, iron, zinc and magnesium. Plus, a chocolate bar contains less sugar than a glass of orange juice.
The best of British
The world's first 'proper' bar of chocolate was produced by the Bristol-based Fry & Son in 1847. And, although it was producing chocolate drinks somewhere between 1849 and 1875, Cadbury didn't produce its first chocolate bar until 1897.