Finally, some really welcome news about food from the scientific community. Something that doesn’t involve the splicing of fish genes into fruit. Timely, too, considering that Easter is close upon us, and it’s time to once again consider the mysterious connection between Christianity, rabbits, eggs and chocolate. I am talking about the latest health research findings that seem to confirm what so many of us have always intuitively known – CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOU. Well, DUH! How could something that is so emotionally and physically fulfilling possibly not be good for you.
These findings have been causing quite a stir in the media lately. One of the most succinct summaries I could find related to the history and health benefits of the dark delicacy was, strangely enough, on a website devoted to a discussion of the medicinal properties of Chinese foods: http://chinesefood.about.com. According to this website, for those of us who don’t know, the fruit of the cacao tree has a long and illustrious history. It had been a staple of the Aztec diet for millennia, and was passed to the Spanish conqueror Cortez by Montezuma. Once they got their hands on the bitter-tasting beverage, the Spanish made some refinements by leaving out the chili pepper flavouring and adding sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Eventually, this beverage evolved into the solid candy format that we are familiar with today.
So much for the brief history lesson. Time to consider just what it is that makes this particular drug so alluring. Part of the answer lies in several chemical reactions that it causes within the body. One of these is the secretion of endorphins, a group of proteins that induce a pleasant sensation of well-being, similar to those created by activities such as exercise and SCUBA diving. As well, chocolate contains trace amounts of serotonin, a potent neurotransmitter that acts as an anti-depressant. In addition, chocolate apparently contains over three hundred other chemicals, a mysterious cocktail of substances that somehow add up to a general sense of, well, just feeling good.
Despite all of the good stuff, though, chocolate has somehow developed a bit of a negative reputation, being associated with tooth decay, weight gain and pimples. Much of this bad press comes from the proliferation of inferior chocolate products filled with way too much sugar and crammed full of additives and preservatives. In its purest form, chocolate in fact has very little downside. According to the above website, while “both cocoa and chocolate contain sugar, they also have properties that work against sugar’s tendency to produce the oral bacteria that eventually leads to dental decay.” What it boils down to is, chocolate is one of the treat foods “that is least likely to contribute to tooth decay.”
In addition, chocolate is packed full of magnesium and potassium, and provides a good dose of vitamins B1, B2, D and E. Also, when enjoyed in moderation, chocolate is nowhere near as high in calories as potato chips, so it’s okay to occasionally indulge those cravings, even when on a diet (obviously, if there are special concerns, a physician should be consulted).
What this all means, according to another website (http://www.aphrodite-chocolates.co.uk), is that eating a couple of ounces (approx. 50 grams) a day of dark chocolate (the kind with the least additives) can be a boon to your overall health. Like a moderate amount of red wine, it can help to reduce high blood pressure and help protect against heart disease.
But, let’s face it, if chocolate tasted and smelled like cod liver oil, all of this nutritional information would be relatively meaningless. What is truly important is the aesthetic appreciation of this gift from the gods. For some insight into chocolate’s special appeal to the senses, I consulted the website (http://www.chocolatearts.com) of my very favourite chocolaterie, located in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. Here, I discovered how to discern good chocolate from mediocre or bad. It’s important to “watch for perfumed or sugary scents” that betray the use of unnecessary additives. At its best, chocolate should be “velvety smooth” as it melts on the tongue, displaying no trace of “graininess.” Most importantly, when its taste hits the palate, it should deliver an “intense, yet very refined, roasted chocolate flavour.”
Aaaaaah, I can taste it now. All I have to wait for now is the good news about french fries that I’m certain will one day arrive.