“Chocolate, of course, is the stuff of which fantasies are made. Rich, dark, velvety-smooth fantasies that develop the senses and stir the passions. Chocolate is madness; Chocolate is delight”.
Chocolate … the gastronomic temptress! Chocolate tempts us with its rich, seductive flavour, its thick creamy texture and its power to soothe our minds. It contains approximately 300 natural chemical compounds which affect our brain chemistry and thus, our moods.
How does this work?
Chocolate causes the release of certain neurotransmitters such as endorphins and other opiates that can help to reduce stress and lead to feelings of well being and euphoria. One of the more interesting neurotransmitters released by chocolate is phenylethylamine. This ‘chocolate amphetamine’ causes changes in the blood pressure and blood-sugar levels, leading to feelings of excitement and alertness. Phenylethylamine, also know as the ‘love drug’, causes an increase in heart rate and a feeling not dissimilar to being in love.
Examples of other chemicals found in chocolate are anandamide and theobromine. Anandamide, similar to a chemical found in marijuana, contains properties that cause the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a wonderful chemical that elevates the mood and increases sexual arousal and response. Theobromine has properties that lead to mental and physical relaxation, as well as acting as a stimulant, similar to caffeine.
As well as, and possibly as a result of these proven properties, chocolate has a long association with enhanced virility and has been used as an aphrodisiac for over 3,000 years. Indeed, it is said that Montezuma, the last Aztec Emperor, drank fifty ‘pitchers’ of xocotlatl or ‘chocolate water’ to give him extra potency before visiting his harem. Other users included Madame du Barry , Louis XI’s mistress, who gave it to her lovers, and Casanova who, it is said, was ‘fond of chocolate’s divine properties’ and considered it an elixir of love.
Bearing all this in mind, is it any wonder that chocolate plays such an important role in matters of emotions? Whether being given as a token of passion, or being consumed for comfort by a jilted lover, chocolate has long been associated with expressions of love and is, more than likely, why it is so closely associated with Valentines Day.