Chocolate: The food of the gods-A A +A
Saturday, February 18, 2012
GUYS, when you were out Valentine’s Day shopping last week for a present to give your special someone, I’m sure the thought of getting her a box of chocolates crossed your mind. If it didn’t – your girlfriend/wife is either a chocophobe or you’re lying. ALL GIRLS LIKE CHOCOLATE.
If you said something you shouldn’t have said the night before – give her chocolate; if you forgot a monthsary the other day – give her chocolate; if you want her to give you a second chance and she’s thiiiis close to breaking up with you – give her chocolate.
Hey, it won’t solve the problem, but it’ll improve your chances of trying to reason with her tenfold. If gold was used in the olden days between nations to get one side to listen to the other side, then chocolate can be used as a leverage, too.
Cadbury, Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, Toblerone… I could fill the whole newspaper with the sheer varieties of chocolate that exist on the planet, given enough time, but that would make a very boring article and my editor would have my head. So no – I’m going to tell you how chocolate came to be, and how chocolate makes people happy.
First and foremost, chocolate is an American plant – when I say American, I mean South American. You’d be surprised about how dependant we are on the so-called “new world” for cuisine.
Anyway – the beloved brown stuff comes from a plant called the theobroma cacao. The word theobroma is Greek for “drink of the gods” since chocolate in its original form was a drink, originally made to be consumed during royal and religious ceremonies by ancient Mesoamericans like the Maya and Aztec. Priests offered cocoa to the gods and passed around chocolate drinks during ceremonies.
Now, they don’t taste the way you think they do – Mesoamerican chocolate is pure cocoa – bitter, bitter stuff. In fact, the word chocolate comes from the Niahuatl word “xocolatl” which means “bitter water”. So if you’re thinking that the Mayan doomsday people sat around laughing and drinking sweet hot chocolate, well… it’s more likely they’d be sitting around drinking a bitter, frothy cocoa flavored beer.
And some of them wouldn’t be laughing – it was often the last thing a sacrificial victim drank before his heart was pulled out of his stomach.
In any case, the Spanish, led by Hernando Cortez, took over in the 16th century and brought cocoa back to Europe, where Cortez reasoned that the drink would be more potable if sugar was added – and ta-dah! The modern chocolate drink was born.
People added all sorts of things like vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and cinnamon to the drink, and it was an instant hint throughout the enlightened nations of Europe (except for Russia – they didn’t get a chocolate factory until 300 years later).
Soon, a machine that was able to extract cocoa butter made it possible for factories to pump out delicious chocolate candy – especially chocolate bars – the most recognizable chocolate food today.
Chocolate, as you may have heard before, can be good for you. Like wine, chocolate produces antioxidants, which are good for the body. They prevent plaque from forming in your arteries, help to reduce blood pressure, and small regular amounts help guard against heart attacks… however this only applies to dark chocolate.
Consuming milk chocolate doesn’t do much for your health. However, all kinds of chocolates are aphrodisiacs, which is probably why they’re so popular on Valentine’s Day. Chocolates are also good for muscle recovery – a chocolate bar after a healthy workout isn’t such a bad idea.
Now for the bad news – chocolate gives you acne. Not the chocolate itself, mind you, but the other ingredients put into the chocolate bar to make it taste less like what the Mayans drank. It can also kill your dog.
Theobromine is a chemical found in the cocoa plant that it uses to defend itself against animal predators. Nigh-useless against humans, it will kill anything from a horse to a housecat because it will remain in their digestive system for almost a day, depending on the animal.
So there you have it folks – the stuff you bought your Valentine was used for ancient human sacrifices, though it’s really quite tasty, and sometimes it can be good for you. But if you feed it to your dog, he’s going to the big doghouse in the sky.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 18, 2012.