Your Love Is Like Chocolate...

So goes the song from Sarah McLachlan, while Star Trek's Counselor Deanna Troy states she 'never met a chocolate she didn't like' as she spoons hot fudge around chocolate ice cream that was topped off with chocolate chips. One of the most popular art house films of last year was singing the praises of it: Chocolat!

While today a box of chocolate ranks as one of the top love gifts (right up there with flowers) from a man to a woman, at one time women were forbidden to eat this Mayan and Aztec delicacy! Also the taste of the the product has changed a lot since it was first discovered and used by mankind...

The cacao bean was thought to come from paradise via the god Quetzalcoatl and was originally used as currency in Mayan culture in the sixth century. They also crushed the bean to make a bitter drink (sometimes used as a part of their marriage rituals) called cacahautl.

It was originally thought that the cacao bean brought power and knowledge to the individuals who consumed the bitter drinks made from the crushed bean. It is also said to heighten the sexual energy of a person.

By Montezuma's time in the 16th century women were forbidden to drink the caocao beverage.

While Columbus has originally brought the plant and beans back to Europe, it was Cortez from Spain who turned into a successful product by adding sugar, vanilla and wine to the basic Mayan brew. The Spanish monasteries cultivated and process the caocao beans for Cortez, and they kept this product under wraps for quite a while.

By 1600 the Spanish chocolate formula was being put into cakes and rolls and by 1700 it was made available to the common folk of Europe. The caocao plant was given the formal name of Thebroma, which means food of the Gods in Greek.

Dutch manufacturer Conrad van Houton made the first mass market cocoa press which rendered what we now know as cocoa powder. Hence the concept of Dutch chocolate and the connection with the powdered cocoa for our modern hot chocolate beverage.

The rise of Swiss chocolate industry began in the late 1800s, when Nestle licensed the rights from Daniel Peter for a process of making milk chocolate -- the basic item of most of the chocolate that we know and love today! Swiss chocolatier Rodolphe Lindt took the process further just a few years later by making the hard chocolate liquefy once inside your mouth. Jules Sechaud from Switzerland is credited with making the first filled chocolates in the early 1900s. This, then, gave birth to the candy bars and boxed chocolates sold in stores today.

While the origin of chocolate started in South America, today the Ivory Coast of Africa, Ghana and Indonesia account for most of the cocoa bean production today, and while the United States imports more cocoa beans than any other country in the world, the per capita consumption of chocolate in the U.S. ranks a mere 11th in the world! The Swiss are #1, followed by Germany, Belgium, Austria, England and the Nordic countries with Canada coming in tenth place.

Chocolate does contain phenyethylamine, which generates the same euphoric feeling as the condition we call 'love' and thus may have a euphoric effect in those people who rush out and eat a whole gallon of chocolate ice cream to overcome love sickness. Science, however, disputes this and says the amount of such chemicals in the confection is way to small to have any real effect!

Chocolate also contains an ingredient that triggers an effect similar to that of marijuana and opium usage (the release b-endorphin by the brain). Again, science says it would take over 25 pounds of chocolate to generate true euphoria (which is probably a lethal dosage for humans -- almost any amount of chocolate, by the way, can be lethal to most small animals like dogs, so don't feed your pooch a sweet treat).

It also contains many vitamins and minerals -- one study by Harvard University, in fact, found that men who ate chocolate lived a year longer than men who didn't! So chocolate can be good for your body (but not your teeth, brush immediately after consuming sweets -- see our separate piece on dental disease).

Pure chocolate (found primarily as Baker's Chocolate in stores) still resembles the taste of the original Mayan product -- bitter and very chalky. The amount of sugar and other ingredients added to this pure product is what turns the bitter into the sweet, lighter brown milk chocolate or darker, semi-sweet chocolate that makes our store bought confections...

So, while science can't confirm the mystical, age old myths surrounding the powers of chocolate, we must also remember that science can neither predict a rainy day nor cure the common cold! People still flock to it when they are depressed, and to be frank, most would consider chocolate a far better symptomatic cure than Prozac! Maybe when all is said and done there is more to the mythology of chocolate than meets the microscope! It may indeed be true that love is like chocolate...

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