Valentine’s Day is many things to different people- a chance to start new relationships, rekindle old ones, or remind that special someone how wonderful they really are. Others feel it is just another “Hallmark” holiday where they are expected to do something for unknown reasons. Regardless of your hopes, expectations, or reservations about Valentine’s Day, chocolate has long been a favorite gift for lovers.
Since the days of the Aztecs chocolate has been used as a gift. Today a box of luxurious quality chocolate says a thousand “thank you’s”, “good luck”, or “I love you”. Chocolate can be given as a way of saying “congratulations”, “I am sorry” or “get well soon”. On Valentine’s Day chocolate clearly says “I LOVE YOU!” Chocolate is more than food, it not only fills your belly but also makes you feel soooo good. Elaine Sherman wrote “Chocolate is heavenly, mellow, sensual, deep, dark, sumptuous, gratifying, potent, dense, creamy, seductive, suggestive, rich, excessive, silky, smooth, luxurious, celestial. Chocolate is downfall, happiness, pleasure, love, ecstasy, fantasy … chocolate makes us wicked, guilty, sinful, healthy, chic, happy.” What more could you want to say to your lover on Valentines Day? Even the scientific name for the tree from which chocolate is derived, Theobroma cacao, translated from Greek, means “food of the gods”.
Why does chocolate evoke so many feelings and emotions for us? Chocolate has long been associated with passion, romance and love. This association may go all the way back to the Aztecs. They believed chocolate was a source of spiritual wisdom, incredible energy and elevated sexual power. Chocolate was widely used as a nuptial aid and was widely served at wedding ceremonies. The Aztecs did not know chocolate as we do today; they consumed the cocoa as a drink. Reports indicate that the Emperor Montezuma consumed large quantities of the drink every day and always fortified himself with a cup before entertaining his harem. The explorer Cortes reported to Carlos I of Spain that chocolate is “… the divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink enables a man to walk for a whole day without food.” From the earliest times, chocolate was considered a substance of power and a source of vitality.
Chocolate has been a subject of study since the first shipment from Veracruz arrived in Spain in 1585. But modern science has made some interesting findings that may help explain our lust for quality chocolate. Chocolate contains organic substances known as alkaloids. The most important of these substances is theobromine, which works as a stimulant to the kidneys. Stimulants in chocolate also affect the central nervous system, with effects similar to caffeine, which is also present in chocolate. A chocolate bar may contain as much as 200 mg of theobromine but only about 25 mg of caffeine. Another important substance found in chocolate is phenylethylamine, which is part of a group of chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins have an effect similar to amphetamine and are found naturally in the human body. When endorphins are released into the bloodstream, the mood is lifted and feelings of positive energy are reached. The sensation known as “runners high” is caused by endorphins released during exercise. Phenylethylamine levels in the brain have also been linked to “falling in love”. One more chemical found in chocolate is seratonin. Seratonin is known for its calming properties. The presence of these chemicals may explain the multitude of feelings chocolate evokes.
Debra Waterhouse, author of Why Women Need Chocolate, conducted a survey and found: 97% of women reported cravings, 68% of which are for chocolate, 50% would choose chocolate over sex, and 22% were more likely than men to choose chocolate as a mood elevator. These findings could easily be interpreted as a result of how chocolate makes us feel. I don’t know why more women choose chocolate than men, for I am a man and I love chocolate.
Critics would say that the benefits of eating chocolate are small when compared to the sugar and fat contained in a chocolate bar. The best chocolate, dark chocolate with high cacao butter content has no added fat, as well as a high percentage of cacao solids and correspondingly less sugar. Although chocolate will never be considered a health food based on its nutritional value, it is still good for you! Good for your heart and soul-anything that helps relieve stress and makes you feel so good must be.
Receiving a nicely wrapped box of chocolates causes a sense of anticipation. The pleasure of unwrapping the box, the sensual smell, lifting the soft seductive papers, the look of the smooth dark chocolates. When it finally passes your lips and starts to instantly melt filling your mouth with exquisite pleasure. The taste and smell flood your senses with overwhelming ecstasy. Eating it slowly, taking time to enjoy and savor every bit. What better way to start off an evening of love?