Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Wonderful World of Chocolate

Bad day at the office, life’s a peach, or just because you feel like it, just reach for chocolate and your world takes on a new chocolaty dimension. OK maybe I’m a bit too over enthusiastic, but one thing is sure this stuff really hits the spot! In this issue chocolate prevails due to Valentine’s Day, Leap Year and of course Easter.

Women seem to be the main lovers of this heavenly stuff, but I have met on occasion the odd man who won’t share his bar for love or money or those who will fight you for the last M&M (the latter, I might add being under the age of 10, and is therefore excused). I won’t make the presumption and say that I don’t think that there is anyone who doesn’t like chocolate but, I have yet to meet someone who has never tasted chocolate - please correct me if I am wrong.

Whether you are a guzzler, a comfort eater (on those long dark nights), or a refined one piece after dinner eater there are still differing opinions as to what is considered ‘real’, chocolate. Dark chocolate is of course in its purity the real McCoy, but milk chocolate is a serious contender, as it tends to melt more slowly and lasts longer in the mouth of the chocolate lover. White chocolate, however, due to its minimal cocoa levels is considered an impostor, but does have its following.

Used as early as the sixth century BC by the Mayas the word chocolate comes from their word Xocoatl, which means ‘bitter water’. A symbol of life and fertility its image was to be found in many of their temples and palaces and was referred to as ‘food of the Gods’. The Aztecs believed that their god Quetzalcoatl brought them the cocoa tree, which he in turn had stolen from paradise. Both the Mayas and the Aztecs used Cocoa as the basis for a thick, cold, unsweetened drink called Xocoatl often flavoured with spices, hot chillies and corn meal. The Aztec emperor, Montezuma drank thick chocolate dyed red. Owing to the fact that the drink was thought to give the drinker wisdom and power as well as being nourishing and having an aphrodisiac quality. It was served in golden goblets that were thrown away after only one use.

Although it was Columbus who brought back the first beans to Spain there was little interest taken in them until Hernando Cortez re-introduced them in 1528 and suggested mixing the bitter drink made from them with sugar. This resulted in a mix with sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. It became the drink of the Spanish nobility and remained a secret from the rest of the world for almost 100 years!
The court of seventeenth century France embraced chocolate to the full mainly because of its aphrodisiac qualities. It is said that the Marquis de Sade, often used it to disguise poisons whereas Casanova was reputed for using chocolate with champagne to seduce the ladies.
After this there was no stopping chocolate becoming popular the world over. In 1830, the drink was made into a confection, in the form of a solid product by JS Fry and Sons (a British chocolate maker). Industrialization in the manufacturing process of chocolate led to increased production, and that coupled with more cocoa plantations, made chocolate just for the elite a thing of the past.
Even as far as ones health it has been found to have some very positive qualities. A pure piece of chocolate (of roughly 10 grams), eaten daily can reduce the chance of heart and blood vessel problems by 50%. The presence of bioflavonoids protects against free radicals, as well as the amino acid Tryptophan, which stimulates the mood enhancing serotonin, resulting it the euphoric feeling that is felt whilst eating chocolate. It is also said to be good for the body and figure and is found in many of today’s beauty products. The effect here is stimulatory and drains water retention, breaks down fat and strengthens the skin.
These days chocolate is everywhere in one form or another just about everywhere; in books, shops, at tastings, societies, cocktails, on postage stamps and even featured in the designs at Parisian fashion shows.

One thing is sure; if you introduce a little chocolate into your life the world becomes a happier place.

Sources: Chocolate 

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #18 Winter 2008 

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