I was reading a food reference book just the other day to see if I could find any proof that chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Next to me sat a bag of chocolate chips from which I was popping an occasional single chip for inspiration. I came across the following, "The Aztec ruler, Montezuma, so believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, that he purportedly drank 50 golden goblets of it each day." -- Food Lover's Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst
So I thought, "If it was that much of an aphrodisiac, why did he need to drink that much of it? Did people have sexual addictions back then? And if it was an effective aphrodisiac, when did he have time to run the country and build all those pyramids?" But it does explain why the Spaniards came and took over. Montezuma was probably just busy (very busy) and not thinking straight when they arrived. So the next thing you know, the Spaniards are taking gold and chocolate back home, and there are all these Don Juan and Casanova stories in the tabloids. Love and chocolate have been inseparable since.
The other little known fact I discovered is that the Aztecs didn't sweeten their cocoa, which is why chocolate means "bitter water." All I can say is bless the first person who figured out to mix in a little honey or syrup. She ought to get a Nobel Prize. Just think how much happier old Monty would have been lounging in his jammies by the fire, sipping sweetened hot cocoa with a dollop of whipped cream on top? Now there's something to inspire a little passion.
So we know what the rumors say. But is there any scientific evidence to support the love/chocolate connection? I found Janet Vine of Aphrodite Chocolates had some interesting research to report:
"Chocolate contains substances called phenylethylamine and seratonin, both of which (put simply), are mood lifting agents found naturally in the human brain. They are released into the nervous system by the brain when we are happy and when we are experiencing feelings of love, passion or lust. This causes rapid mood change, a rise in blood pressure and increasing heart rate, inducing those feelings of well being, bordering on euphoria usually associated with being in love."
"Eating chocolate also releases phenylethylamine and seratonin into the system producing those same euphoric effects, plus it can give a substantial energy boost thus increasing stamina (at the critical moment?) so it's probably these effects which gave rise to chocolates reputation as an aphrodisiac.
So there you have it, calling chocolate an aphrodisiac is probably stretching it a bit, but eating chocolate does make you feel good and can actually induce or 'mimic' the feelings of being in love..."
This is starting to sound pretty good. Chocolate makes you feel like you are in love. And I thought it was all that meditating that put me in such a good mood. This chocolate talk is making my mouth water. Forgive me, but can I share some of my favorite chocolates indulgences now? I will withhold the details of my first encounter with each. I don't kiss and tell.
Chilmark Chocolates -- Forget trying to buy them unless you go to Martha's Vineyard during the season and then only Thursday through Sunday. This place runs entirely on love -- of chocolate and the people whose lives are enhanced by the opportunity to have gainful employment in spite of disabilities. Free samples while you wait in line. Squibnuggets, Tashmoo Truffles, Chocolate Covered Island Blueberries, oh my...
Richart Chocolates. Conversation is strictly sotto voce in this museum-like shop where each chocolate and each chocolate collection is a true visual and culinary masterpiece. Try to restrain yourself and wait until you exit the shop before deciding between Lavender or Fennel/Anise or Mandarin Green Orange Ganache. No free samples.
For the dark chocolate purist in me Dagoba New Moon or Trader Joe's Swiss 71% Dark Chocolate (Fair Trade) both enjoy status at Chez Goldstein as a "house" chocolate and can be found in my pantry of must-have staples or stashed in my travel bag for emergencies -- like not having any chocolate.
Proof of the Pudding's Chocolate Brownies -- the perfect balance of cake and fudge, walnuts and vanilla, medium rare. We must have sold a million of them back in the day when I was actually paid to play with my food. Adapted from an old family recipe "Aunt Nora's Brownies," we can always count on Uncle John Goldstein to send us his version over the holidays. Hmm... Maybe I'll send some to the kids this week. Grandma and I can fight over who will lick the bowl.
And there's more I can't leave out: Margaret Ann Surber's Chocolate Roulade, Marcella Hazan's Italian Chocolate Mousse Cake, Anne Quatrano's Molten Chocolate Cake, Bova Bakery's Chocolate Cannoli's, John Haber's "Babies" ....Sigh.
Personally, my favorite kind of chocolate is of the dark, bittersweet variety. I always look for labels that indicate the item contains 67-75% cacao. I crave the dance of those flavors melting across my tongue in just the right balance. Maybe that blending of opposites is the real reason we think of chocolate on Valentine's Day. Love relationships can be bittersweet, especially the long and good ones, the ones that are truly passionate. And new love, full of magic and promise can in the next moment teeter on the brink of becoming too "saccharine" or blowing up, melting down or drowning in bitter tears.
I still don't know if chocolate is really an aphrodisiac. But I know this for sure: I could never be really close to someone who didn't like chocolate. And the more chocolate I eat, the more I love chocolate.
Kay Goldstein, MA teaches meditation and writes poetry, fiction and articles addressing the challenges and joys of daily living and spiritual practice.