No wonder chocolate and Valentine's Day go hand-in-hand. A food that is delicious, romantic and good for you, too -- what better gift for your sweetie?
From the ancient Aztecs, who considered chocolate a food fit for the gods, to early Europeans, who believed it could serve as both a love potion and medicine, not an awful lot has changed in our centuries-old love affair with the cocoa bean.
But why do we love chocolate so? For the most obvious answer, consider the rich, creamy flavor.
"We love chocolate primarily because it tastes so good. Every time we taste chocolate, it is a wonderful memory for us," offered Gina Tedesco, manager of public relations at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, which, after a successful chocolate expo last year, is devoting the entire month of February to a celebration of chocolate.
The arboretum isn't the only organization using chocolate to attract visitors. For eight years, Naperville-based NCO Youth and Family Services has held a chocolate festival in January that draws between 1,200 and 1,500 people, said Dawn Portner, special events coordinator.
"Everybody loves chocolate, so it's just a win-win," Portner said.
Chocolate satisfies our innate preference for sweets and fat, said Nancy Rodriguez, a registered dietitian with Edward Hospital in Naperville.
"You can't argue with the joy of eating a good piece of chocolate," she said. "The way it melts on your mouth and tongue."
Feel good food
The cocoa beans from which chocolate is made are not, themselves, sweet. The Mayans and Aztecs in Central America and Mexico consumed chocolate as a bitter, frothy drink mixed with chilies. Among the more than 300 chemicals contained in chocolate are a number of ingredients that help explain why we crave it.
Chocolate triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin, which make us feel good, Rodriguez said. And while no proof exists that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, it does contain the chemical phenylethylamine, a mild mood elevator that our brain produces when we feel happy or in love.
Chocolate contains stimulants as well, including small amounts of caffeine and theobromine, said Christine Palumbo of Naperville, a registered dietitian in private practice, adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University in Lisle, and nutrition columnist and speaker. Stimulants make us feel alert and contented.
Not all chocolate cravings are equal, added Palumbo, whose husband is the chocoholic in their family. Some studies have indicated that people with strong chocolate cravings have different bacteria in their digestive tract than other people, she said. People seeking relief from stress may also eat chocolate.
"Some people eating chocolate may use it as an antidepressant," she said.
Most people like chocolate to some degree, but our taste for it varies, as with any food, she said.
"It's like some kids like broccoli and some don't," said Palumbo, who writes a column for Chicago Parent magazine. "It's not just taste that's important. For some people, texture is important."
Chocolate's creamy texture contributes to its sensual quality, aficionados say.
"Talk about sexy food. It melts in your mouth," said Cathy Bouchard, owner of Le Chocolat du Bouchard in Naperville.
Bouchard, who suffered from fibromyalgia for nine years, says chocolate isn't just sensual, but health giving. She says she recovered from the chronic, debilitating pain caused by her disease after she began eating an ounce of pure chocolate every morning.
Now an apostle of chocolate, Bouchard sells in her store what she calls The Chocolate Regime, bags that contain a two-week supply of chocolate for those who want to try its health benefits. She requests that customers fill out forms to report back to her the results.
Within a month or six weeks, hundreds of customers have reported improvements in conditions that include fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and migraines, she said.
"It's the best thing everybody should eat every day," she said. "That's our whole mission, spreading the word about the health benefits."
Bouchard is quick to explain that she doesn't mean all chocolate is equally healthy. She recommends chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa and chock-full of heart-healthy flavonols, which also may act as antioxidants to prevent or delay damage to the body's cells and tissues.
With its higher percentage of cocoa, dark chocolate contains a greater concentration of flavonols than milk chocolate, which is higher in calories and saturated fat.
However, even the dark chocolate label can be misleading, Bouchard said. Dark chocolate that contains milk or lists sugar as its first ingredient won't offer nearly the health benefits, she said.
"Real chocolate has no milk in it," she said. "I want to know what's in my chocolate."
Dietitians agree that chocolate contains many beneficial elements, although they caution it often is high in fat and sugar.
"There are a lot of heart-healthy benefits," Rodriguez said. "You have to kind of weigh the whole picture."
Palumbo writes in a February 2011 column in Chicago Parent that the health-promoting flavonols in chocolate are most concentrated in cocoa powder, followed by baking chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and lastly syrup. The flavonols are not found in white chocolate, which is not made from the cocoa bean.
As food derived from a plant, cocoa also contains fatty acids that are neutral for blood cholesterol or may even help lower it, she said. Published research done with adults suggests chocolate may reduce cardiovascular risk factors by helping keep blood vessels elastic, reducing blood pressure, and having a beneficial effect on systemic inflammation and platelet stickiness, she said.
Palumbo's own suggestion for how much chocolate provides health benefits is between one and 10 tablespoons (10 to 100 calories) per day of cocoa, or two, 20-gram tasting squares (90 calories total) of dark chocolate.
In other words, enjoy chocolate with your sweetie, but in moderation.
This page is about the food. For the color, see Chocolate (color).
Chocolate is a food made from the seeds of a cacao bean. It is used in many desserts like pudding, cakes, candy, ice cream. and Easter eggs. It can be a solid form like a candy bar or it can be in a liquid form like hot chocolate. The taste of chocolate is often described as sweet because chocolate makers usually add a lot of sugar and milk for taste. This means that chocolate can be bad for your teeth and health. It is best to eat chocolate in moderation.
Types of chocolate[change | change source]
There are three main types of chocolate: white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate. White chocolate tastes much sweeter than the other two types, because it has more of the sweeter ingredients in it. White chocolate does not have any cocoa in it. It is mostly made of cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is sweet, but not as sweet as white chocolate. Milk chocolate has some cocoa. Dark chocolate is the least sweet and has the strongest chocolate flavor. Dark chocolate has up to 60-85 percent cocoa.
Safety[change | change source]
Chocolate is safe to eat unless it is eaten in large amounts. Some animals, like dogs, become sick if they eat chocolate. People with diabetes can also get sick from eating chocolate. Dark chocolate contains ingredients that lower blood pressure and fight disease. Small amounts of dark chocolate have been found to lower the risk of heart disease because of polyphenol in chocolate. It is necessary to eat moderate amount of chocolate.
Making chocolate[change | change source]
Making chocolate is a process that has many steps. First, the cocoa beans are collected and put in piles or containers to make them ferment. Fermentation makes the sugar in the beans turn into alcohol. Then the beans are dried and cleaned. Chocolate makers must cook the beans, and then crush them to make the cocoa butter and the chocolate liquor come out of them. Then the chocolate maker mixes different ingredients together to make the different kinds of chocolate. Dark or bittersweet chocolate is made from sugar, cocoa butter, and chocolate liquor. Milk chocolate uses all of those ingredients plus milk and vanilla. White chocolate does not contain chocolate liquor, but only cocoa butter, along with sugar, milk and vanilla. After these ingredients are put together, the chocolate maker is still not finished. One of the last things to be done is something called conching. Before chocolate is conched, it feels very rough in the mouth, instead of smooth. Conching means crushing the chocolate very finely and keeping it warm so that it is liquid. Conching for several hours makes good chocolate. The last step in making chocolate is called tempering. The chocolate is heated, and then shaken, and then cooled a few times.
Ingredients[change | change source]
There are a number of ingredients in chocolate. The most notable of these are caffeine and theobromine. These two chemicals are closely related and are found in all cocoa beans. In any bean, the amount of each chemical varies depending on the genetics of the tree and the stresses placed on the tree during the growing season. It takes two hours to make chocolate.
History of chocolate[change | change source]
The cacao tree was first found to be useful for its seeds about two thousand years ago. Early Central Americans and Mexicans used the seeds from the cacao tree to make a drink that tasted bitter, not sweet. Only the important people could drink it. The word for "chocolate" in almost every language comes from its name in the Nahuatl language of Mexico, chocolatl.
Later on, this drink was made sweeter and made into what is known today as hot chocolate. It was made popular by Spanishexplorers who brought it from North America to Spain. When chocolate was sweetened and made into candy, it became a very popular treat for many Europeans. At first, only the rich could afford chocolate. Now, many people enjoy it. Most cocoa today is made in Africa.
References[change | change source]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chocolate.|
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Other websites[change | change source]
- ↑Sangam, Radhika (6 January 2010). "2010 calendar: A year of healthy living". India Today. India Today group. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- ↑"History of Chocolate". ThinkQuest. Retrieved 2011-04-16. [dead link]