• There are few foods that can evoke as much passion as this thoroughly decadent treat.
Folklore derived from many different cocoa-centric cultures have claimed that consuming chocolate promoted, health, strength, and sexual passion.
At one time the sole right and indulgence of royalty, over the last centuries it has become a quotidian treasure accessible to literally everyone: and not only simply as a treat.
So at what point in time did our infatuation with chocolate have its genesis…?
• As is known, the cacao tree produces pods whose seeds that can then be processed into chocolate.
Reputedly originally discovered some 4,000 years ago within the tropical rainforests of the Americas, the first society known to have consumed cacao and recorded its consumption had been the Mayans of the so-called “Classic Period” – between around 250 and 900 A.D.
These hardy and creative people concocted a mixture consisting of ground cacao seeds, spices, honey and certain other seasonings in order to produce a bitter drink whose properties they espoused as a form of elixir with – supposed and much-vaunted – benefits to their overall health.
To the Mayans, the cocoa pod symbolized both life and fertility and as such, its form was often represented in religious rituals – including marriage ceremonies – being referred-to as 'Food of the Gods': whilst in central Mexico, the Aztecs held the belief that both wisdom and power came from eating its fruit – which also they saw as being nourishing, fortifying and even ‘blessed’ with aphrodisiac qualities.
• To Europeans, chocolate first crossed their palettes in 1519 – following a meeting between Cortés – the marauding Spanish explorer – and the Aztec Emperor, Montezuma – who had offered him the drink as a Welcoming gift.
After extracting as much gold and other precious artefacts as they could from the unwitting locals, the returning conquistadors brought some of the cocoa seeds back with them to Spain – where they added other spices and, specifically, sugar to their version of the concoction.
This soon extremely popular yet exclusive beverage, soon thereafter spread throughout Europe – where for the following centuries it remained a somewhat esoteric drink much favoured by all those members of the elite who could afford its elevated cost.
• As for Chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac, this came about primarily by its adoption within the French Court and the aristocracy who fawned at the table of Louis XIV – inspiring both erotic art and all kinds of both salacious and elevating stories to be recorded within the literature of the day.
Perhaps one of its most famous habitués was the reputedly supremely sexually-prolific Italian from Genova, Giacomo Casanova.
This notorious womanizer supposedly – and also reputedly – made a habit of drinking chocolate before his different romantic romps and perhaps that is why, even today, chocolate is still considered by romantic lore as an aphrodisiac.
• The first industrially-manufactured chocolate was actually confectioned in Barcelona during early 1780 – paving the way for later the mass-production of a more commonly-accessible chocolate confectioned as a miscible powder that could be selectively diluted within milk, water or other beverages of choice.
Later – during the early 1800s – thanks to the work of the British industrialist Fry Sons, further mechanical refinements made it possible to produce a smooth, creamy, solid chocolate version destined to be eaten – as opposed to simply drunk…
There is some evidence to suggest that it was during the 17th century that Lovers first started to exchange mementoes on St Valentine’s Day with, initially, such offerings being essentially sweets of different kinds – and it was in 1868 that the first specifically confectioned “Valentine's Day Chocolate Box” was introduced by Richard Cadbury: another British food-based industrialist.
• However, it wasn’t until 1875 that Daniel Peter of Switzerland was to introduce the first, commonly-available Milk Chocolate bar – and this really proved to be the take-off point for the product as both a comfort and energy food.
So much so that sometime later –specifically during WWll – the US Department of the Army would ship cocoa beans to the troops as a fortifiant and then, towards the end of the war – thanks to Hershey – small bars of chocolate that would be included within their standard ration food-packs.
The fairly liberalised handing-out of these bars to the inhabitants of France, Italy and eventually even ‘liberated’ Germany, would go a long way to not only endearing the Liberators with relation to the general public but also, through this act, eventually spread the taste for a more banalised and quotidian use of chocolate into the post-war years.
Indeed, the US Army-issue chocolate bar is some cases became a unit of exchange – like a sort-of currency: both for the promotion of 'good feeling' as well as in the guise of a tool employed towards seducing the ‘Hearts and Minds’ of whichever country the Army might find itself: even into Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
Other than its growing ubiquity as a ‘comfort food', chocolate has even been taken into space as part of the diet for U.S. astronauts.
• The manufacturing procedures have not really changed that much over the years – though of course, with industrialisation the processes involved became more formalised.
Originally, whatever the chocolate – whether dark or white – its source comes from cacao beans harvested off the Theobroma cacao tree.
Modern Chocolate makers harvest the pods from the trees, scoop the beans out of the pods, then ferment and dry them.
Next, these are roasted and ground – and to create chocolate bars, manufacturers subsequently convert this resulting substance into a liquor that is sweetened, once again ground and finally poured into their product-branded mold – whereupon it is allowed to solidify.
Depending on whether making ordinary, standard chocolate or dark chocolate, the process will vary slightly during the liquid phase.
Regular ‘milk’ chocolate is made with a combination of cocoa liquor, powdered milk, and lots of sugar and the average milk chocolate bar sold in the United States rarely has more than 10 percent cocoa content.
However, 'dark' chocolate consists of some of the same ingredients but these are melded in different amounts – with, for instance, milk powder not being used in its concoction.
Most dark chocolate has a cocoa content of between 35 and 85 percent – and, as will be noted – the higher the percentage of cocoa, the stronger will be the taste: going towards more bitter at the upper concentrations.
Mass-produced, relatively low-priced chocolates tend to have other ingredients added during the liquefying phase– such as cocoa butter, soy, or other bulking ingredients that can help keep the end-user price low and the manufacturing costs lower..!
Despite its denomination, so-called ‘White’ chocolate isn’t a typically cocoa-derived substance at all and in fact doesn’t even contain any cocoa at all..!
Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is simply the first-stage result of having ground cacao beans.
• So – apart from its proven benefits as an instant, sucrose-and-cocoa based energy source, IS Chocolate actually any kind of aphrodisiac..?
Well, actually – not really: even though throughout its history, chocolate has been purported to be one.
Factually, chocolate does contain small amounts of a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA) – a.k.a. the "love drug," – which has provably been linked to the regulation of physical energy, emotional mood, and attention-focus.
A tiny amount of PEA is released at moments of emotional euphoria – with the effect of elevating both blood pressure and heart rate: however, when eating chocolate, there is, unfortunately – for those who might wish it otherwise – absolutely no hard evidence that PEA, as found in any foods, increases PEA in the brain…
Pity… Sorry :(
• That said, what is also true, is that dark chocolate – as opposed to milk or white chocolate – contains healthful flavonoids similar to those found in tea, red wine, fruits, and vegetables: and the stronger the concentration of the cacao – preferably better than 80% when it can be found – the more beneficial can be these effects – even though with the increased percentage of cacao, the taste naturally becomes somewhat more bitter.
One small study has suggested that dark chocolate can improve flow within the blood vessels and may also improve both blood sugar and insulin sensitivity – therefore helping reduce the risk of diabetes.
However – beware: as it should absolutely be noted that chocolate candy – especially of the cheaper variety in which the cocoa percentage is relatively low – there are plenty of saturated fats along with the sugar: and so if wishing to maintain a healthy diet, one should only enjoy small portions at any one time.
The bottom line here is similar to many other issues: the more one pays, the better the quality, the greater the benefit – or, in the case of chocolate – the less harmful can be the commercially added substances mixed with it in order to seduce our taste buds and suborn our will with temptation..!
… And – for those who are counting calories:
- A 53 gm MARS bar is about 160 calories.
- A 36 gm SNICKERS bar is about 170 calories (Chocolate AND Peanuts!!)
- (2) Fingers of a KitKat bar will cost you 100 calories..!
- A 25 gm MilkyWay is worth 113 calories.
- 1 1/3rd TWIX fingers of a 55 gm bar is also 100 Calories.
- (4) Squares of a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, 20 gm Bar = 100 Calories.
- (2) Squares of a 70% Cocoa Lindt Dark Chocolate Bar are 100 calories.
- (10) Maltesers will set you back 100 calories..!
- … as will only (20) Milk Chocolate MMs…
- … and you can only have (10) Peanut-based MMs for the same 100 calories.
- Beware: 1.5 Ferrero Rochers is also 100 Calories…
- Milk Chocolate: (3) Squares – about 38 gms – contain 220 Calories and 13 gms of Fat, 21 Gms of Carbohydrates – 19 gms of which are from Sugar – plus around 100 mg of Calcium and 1.08 mg of Iron.
- Dark Chocolate: a 38gm serving of 85% cocoa content is worth 136 calories, 14gms of fat, 1 gm of protein, 2gms of fiber and 12 gms of Carbohydrates – NONE fo which are from sugar.
- White Chocolate: 25gms of is worth 146 Calories and 10gms of Fat, 13gms of carbohydrates – all of which are from sugar – and 50 mg of Calcium…
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