Chocolate: A Valentine’s Day Treat

By Martha S Benedict

Martha loved chocolate, and actively promoted it’s health benefits. This blog entry is a snippet of her writing on the topic. For more of her writings, see A Pocket Full of Posies. Enjoy!

Chocolate beans come from the cacao tree. Archeological evidence exists that cacao has grown in the Amazon and Orinoco River complexes for the last six thousand years. From this origin the tree was brought both north and south to the different empires of the Aztec, Toltec, and Mayan populations. Aztec lore relates that the god, Quetzalcoatl’, founder of the race, designated cacao as a divine gift and used it both to stem fatigue and provide pleasure. Cacao beans were used as units of exchange. There exist legends about the proliferation of cacao trees. The Aztecs believed that a drink of “xocolatl”, meaning bitter water, stimulated mental and psychic awareness.

HISTORICAL USES OF CHOCOLATE

Historically chocolate has been ascribed for use for the weak and infirm; as having curative powers; a panacea; curing consumption; consolation for lovers’ misfortunes; upset stomach; hangovers; mild fevers; senility; phlegmatic temperament; gout; to relieve fatigue; as a diuretic; antiseptic; for cough, snake bite, burns, wounds; for dry eyes, alopecia; as an emmenagogue, for pregnancy, and parturition; as a brain stimulant; as an antispasmodic; as a dentifrice. Archeological evidence also suggests that chocolate was traditionally fermented and made into one of the first alcoholic beverages.

CHOCOLATE COMPOSITION

What is in the composition of chocolate that makes it so unique and useful? Carbohydrates, fat (as cocoa butter that is easily assimilated), ash, protein, and water comprise chocolate a nutrient dense food that makes available a high amount of energy per unit weight. It has been included in astronauts’ and sports players’ diets. Depending upon its form, it contains 400 to 800 calories for 100g (3-½ oz). It is abundant in minerals: magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, zinc, iron, and copper. Chocolate has vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, and E, and it contains theobromine, a molecule related to caffeine, as well as one-fifth the amount of caffeine as coffee. Polyphenols or flavonoids are antioxidants in chocolate.. This is why it doesn’t go rancid. It also contains tyramine and phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA is called the “love drug”. Research exists that allies PEA and its metabolites with other substances that elevate moods. Several fatty acids act on the cannabinoid and opioid receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain that some researchers associate with “feeling good”.

PERSONAL USE AND OBSERVATIONS OF CHOCOLATE

Twenty-three years ago whenI was given a barrel of roasted cocoa beans, it triggered thoughts of how much I liked to eat chocolate–dark rich chocolate. It also started recollections about chocolate. There were the nickel ice cream cones we bought at the drug store and consumed listening to the outdoor band concerts on warm summer Friday nights: Dad ordered strawberry; Mom and I ordered chocolate. Chocolate came at holiday times. Loft’s or Fanny Farmer’s chocolate came as Santa Clauses at Christmas, hearts at Valentine’s Day, and bunnies or fudge and walnut filled eggs at Easter. Uncle George told of sharing the Hershey bars from Aunt Millie’s World War ll care packages with eager French children. Hot cocoa sparked enthusiasm on cold winter morning, noon, and night’s. Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate. As I grew older chocolate was supposed to be avoided by any teenager who wanted clear skin. That meant every time I ate it and did not suffer an acne “flower”, I got away with something. People I knew growing up treated eating chocolate like sharing a secret or “falling off the wagon”. This gave the subject additional caché.

As an herbalist and champion of the plant kingdom, however, I began collecting information about the brown beans. Could something so universally loved also be healthy for people? Here is a short encapsulation of findings.

CHOCOLATE AND CHINESE THEORY

In Chinese medicine, it is important to train the palate especially of children to include and appreciate all the flavors–sour, sweet, pungent, salty, and bitter. Hot cocoa is a wonderful and easy beverage for a parent to use to accomplish “bitter”. It’s amazing how the palate is capable of becoming educated.

CHOCOLATE RECIPES

There is a multitude of cookbooks with fabulous chocolate recipes. Some recipes work better than others do. Here are a few that have worked for me. Hot cocoa can be made with heated or steamed milk and pure chocolate, honey, and cinnamon . Try it with a little chili powder for extra kick. Chocolate dipped fresh and dried fruit with the above- listed sweeteners can be served quickly. My favorites include strawberries, pineapple, cherries, raspberries, apricots, dates, currants, prunes, and persimmon wedges. They are so sweet in themselves, the chocolate needs next to no sweetener. Stuffing nuts-brazil, pecan, walnuts, almonds– in the dried fruit multiplies the possibilities. I make a cookie with nut flour, a variety of sweeteners, and pure chocolate nips mixed with semi-sweet chocolate morsels. I adore organic coconut, fresh or dried, with chocolate, nuts, and raisins. My favorite way to use chocolate is in a savory, rich, black Oaxacan mole sauce served with chicken and vegetables. Happy Valentines Day from the Benedictine Family.

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