Who doesn’t love chocolate? Okay, I do know of one or two people who don’t care for it, but nobody’s perfect, right? Recently we have seen a wide array of articles and studies touting the amazing properties and health benefits of chocolate.
Here is an excerpt from Martha’s book, A Pocket Full of Posies, extolling the virtues of chocolate.
Whoever heard of a health practitioner recommending chocolate for your health?
Over twenty years ago when a friend gave me a barrel of roasted cocoa beans, I thought 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 in the shape of Santa Claus 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 II care packages with eager French children. Hot cocoa sparked enthusiasm on cold winter morning, noon, and nights. 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 acne “flowers,” 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’s a short encapsulation of my findings.
History of Chocolate
Columbus discovered chocolate on the island of Guanaja near Honduras during his fourth voyage and made note of it, although little became of the encounter. Cortez was the first European on record to bring the beans to Spain. It became fashionable throughout Europe after 1615 when Anne, a Spanish princess, married Louis XIII of France and brought her affection for chocolate with her to the French court. From there, it spread throughout Europe.
Chocolate beans come from the cacao tree. Archeological indication 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. Gradually, by default rather than intent, cacao began being used as a beverage by the Spanish. They noticed it increased stamina and strength and did “not lead to drunkenness.” But it was bitter. Then some nameless person began to Europeanize the substance by adding sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, aniseed, and pepper. Finally, someone served it hot—hot chocolate! Over the next two hundred years different European countries made their peace with chocolate and integrated it into their cuisine and culture. It became so popular, there were chocolate houses similar to Starbucks all over Europe. The first British factory opened in 1728.
It was the Swedish botanist, Linnaeus, however, who gave the Latin name “Theobroma” to this beloved substance. “Theo” means god and “broma” means food. Food of the Gods!
Historical Uses of Chocolate
Historically, chocolate has been used 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 and antiseptic; for cough, snake bite, burns, wounds; for dry eyes, alopecia; as an emmenogogue, for pregnancy and parturition; for high blood pressure; as a brain stimulant; and as an anti-spasmodic; as a dentifrice. Any of these sound familiar?
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 (3½ oz). It is abundant in minerals: magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, zinc, iron, and copper. Add vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, E. It contains theobromine, a molecule related to caffeine, as well as one-fifth the amount of caffeine as coffee. Polyphenols or flavonoids are anti-oxidants 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 canabinoid and opioid receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain that some researchers associate with feeling good.
In my acupuncture practice I give roasted cacao beans to women who are experiencing PMS or are menopausal. I find it very useful for depression associated with hormone fluctuations. Although this clinical observation is not supported by research, my patients report relief. I do not eliminate it for teenagers who come for adolescent skin concerns. I encourage competitive sports participants to use it as part of their training. Finally, when people are older or have a wasting disease, have poor appetite and need to maintain or increase weight, it is invaluable added to a whey protein powder.
However, there is an obvious difference between what I am recommending and Hershey Kisses. I do not recommend milk chocolate or mixing refined sugar with chocolate. Unfortunately this is the form most accessible commercially. Instead, when making cocoa use raw steamed milk or soymilk and mix in unsweetened cocoa. Purchase or make your own chocolate delights without adding refined sugar. Use maple syrup, maple sugar, date sugar, raw cane sugar, stevia, fructose, dried fruit or sweet fruits such as persimmons. It’s easy to do and delicious. Very dark chocolate is available. My daughter found 99% chocolate bars on the Internet for me for the holidays one year. 70% to 85% chocolate bars are now easily available. Happily, as more consumers request unsweetened cocoa and chocolate at their favorite restaurants and stores, the more available it will become.
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.
There is a multitude of cookbooks with fabulous chocolate recipes. Read them for inspiration and modify them to omit refined sugar. Some recipes will work better than others. Here are a few that have worked for me.
Hot cocoa can be made with heated or steamed raw milk and pure cocoa powder. Try it with a little honey and chili powder. I use Van Houten, Droste’s, Scharffen Berger, or other organic brands.
Fresh and dried fruit dipped in chocolate 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 and a brownie with nut flour, a variety of sweeteners, and pure chocolate nips mixed with semi-sweet chocolate morsels.
There are very dark chocolate bars including Newman’s Own Organics and Richard Donnellly’s 70% bar and Michel Cluizel’s 99% bar. Add shaved bitter chocolate on top of other dishes containing meat and veggies inspired by the molé of Mexican cuisine.
Finally, I adore organic coconut, fresh or dried, with chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit.
Now you’ve heard of a health practitioner recommending chocolate.