Chocolate is the Best Valentine's Day Gift!

     Casanova, the legendary lover, touted chocolate for its ability to provide energy for a night on the prowl. He also understood the allure of creamy, dark chocolate  on craving-prone women, for whom chocolate can turn on the pleasure sensors in the brain. In fact, the great Lothario declared dark chocolate’s sweet, complex and sensual pleasure among the world’s finest aphrodisiacs, second only to Champagne.

     Adam Drewnowski from the University of Michigan proved that eating chocolate produces natural opiates in the brain, which provides another explanation for chocolate’s feel-good reputation.

Roasted cacao beans

Roasted cacao beans

   Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree, native to what today is Mexico and Guatemala. A people in ancient Mexico, the Olmec, left the earliest evidence of cacao use known today. Residue left in a small bowl dated to 1800 B.C. at Paso de la Amada in southern Mexico proves humans have been consuming chocolate for millennia.

     What’s most interesting is that the Olmecs figured out how to eat cacao at all. Animals simply spat out the hard, bitter seeds, lending no clue to the potential hiding inside the shell. The Olmecs conceived the fermenting, drying, roasting and grinding process that remains the basis of today’s chocolate production, which took extensive knowledge of food science and biochemistry. Then they passed this knowledge down to subsequent civilizations.

     For the ancients, chocolate was sacred and was referred to as “the food of the gods.” According to Aztec mythology, the cacao tree  was gifted to them by their god Quetzalcoatl.

     Jumping ahead to the 19th century, Daniel Peter, a Swiss confectioner and co-founder of the Nestlé company, blended condensed milk with chocolate liquor in 1876, and gave the world milk chocolate. In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt invented the "conche" in Berne, Switzerland. Conchinginvolves grinding the chocolate for hours or days on end to evenly distribute cocoa butter within chocolate. Conching reduces the particles to smaller than 30 microns (0.03 mm) in size, which are undetectable to the human tongue and gives chocolate it smooth texture.  

     Today, the largest consumers of chocolate are the Swiss (averaging 22.36 pounds per person per year), followed by Austrians, and then the Irish. The people of the United States are eleventh in the world in chocolate consumption, eating an average of 11.64 pounds per person per year.

     Some fun facts about chocolate:

-Thomas Jefferson loved hot chocolate. 
-Chocolate does not raise blood cholesterol.
-A substance in chocolate inhibits the formation of dental cavities.
-A study in Finland revealed that women who eat chocolate during pregnancy have happier babies.
-Chocolate doesn’t cause hyperactivity.
-Chocolate doesn’t cause acne.
-Chocolate doesn’t contain a lot of caffeine (about 1/12 the amount of a cup of coffee).
-Dark chocolate has more antioxidants that any other food per 100 grams. Milk chocolate is second. Prunes are third, raisins are fourth.
-Chocolate is the number one food craved by women
-Chocolade, chocolat, schokolade, choklad, czekolada, sjokolade, chokolade, Cokelat. In any language, it’s chocolate.

     Here are some of the reasons everyone loves it:

-It’s safe to drive and eat chocolate.
-Chocolate is always age appropriate.

-Chocolate is something a mother and teenage daughter can always agree on.
-It’s there for you when the going gets tough.
-The word “commitment” doesn’t scare off chocolate.
-Everything tastes better with chocolate.
-Chocolate fills up our stomach, leaving no room for fattening things like spinach, liver and turnips.
-Books such as Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.
-Vermeer (a chocolate cream liqueur made from Dutch chocolate, fresh cream and premium vodka).
-It’s cheaper than therapy.

     How do you feel about getting chocolate for Valentine's Day? Post a comment!