The Aztecs were the first to use chocolate, they used it in a bitter, hot drink. They called chocolate "the food of the Gods". Columbus discovered it when he landed in 1492 and he took it back to his King. Chocolate didn’t really catch on until the Spanish tasted the bitter drink and sweetened it, making what we now know as "hot chocolate". By 1876, a man from Switzerland produced the actual chocolate and the rest is history.
So why is chocolate so addicting? There are actually quite a few reasons, other than the great taste, why most of us crave it. The flavour itself is an equal balance of sweet and bitter, the texture is smooth, the caffeine gives you a lift and it contains natural chemicals that act as an anti-depressant. Phenylethylamine, is a chemical naturally occurring in the cocoa bean that helps to calm and comfort the body. It has also been shown in studies to up the serotonin and dopamine in the brain, there by comes the anti-depressant qualities. This is the same feeling that is produced when a person falls in love. Another chemical, Theobromine, is a good source of vitamins A, B1, C, D, E and the mineral Magnesium. If a person craves a lot of chocolate, it could mean that they are low in magnesium, which is depleted when we are stressed. The theobromine is toxic to dogs. In order to get the health benefits of chocolate, you must eat the real, dark chocolate (70% Cocoa or higher) and not the milk flavoured varieties, which are full of sugar and milk and often just chocolate flavouring. Remember, everything in moderation; a few squares of pure dark chocolate are enough!
There are more health benefits in the form of antioxidants called phenols, the same as found in red wine. These phenols, help to keep you young and to prevent cholesterol from sticking to the artery walls. Chocolate has also been shown to protect against cancer and to help lower blood pressure. The more they study chocolate, the more health benefits they seem to find, but what if you’re a person that is bothered by chocolate? Some people experience migraines or other allergic reactions to it; what you are allergic to is often what you crave. An alternative is Carob, it is also from a pod and has a similar smooth flavour, but no caffeine. Chocolate also tends to have a lot of pesticides and even sometimes heavy metals, so buy organic when you can.
This food of the Gods, was also known as an aphrodisiac; the Aztec kings would drink it before going into their harems. In the days of the Aztecs it was drank in its bitter form, today, we add just about everything, nuts, fruits and all sorts of flavours……..everything is better with chocolate. Try making your own almond bark, or chocolate covered cranberries (use dried cranberries), or just eat the dark chocolate straight. Remember to include dark chocolate in your diet.
Some of my favourite brands of Chocolate, along with the ones I make myself :)