Columns / Discourse / September 22, 2012

Bittersweet trivia: Some facts on chocolate

What has three syllables and is a guilty pleasure? Don’t think too hard: it’s chocolate. It’s the kind of confectionery that you feel guilty about but just can’t have enough of. Sweet, bitter, hot, cold, liquid, solid; however you eat it, here are a few sweet facts about chocolate that you might not have known.

  1. The Mayan civilization is considered to be one of the original users of the basest form of chocolate. The cacao bean was used ceremoniously and sometimes as a form of currency. If it wasn’t evident by the fact that they used the bean ceremoniously, the cacao bean was held in high regard. “Cacao” is a Mayan word meaning “God food.”
  1. Need a mild anti-depressant? Consider chocolate. Chocolate increases serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, producing the effects of a mild anti-depressant. So antidepressant equals chocolate. Glad that was cleared up.
  1. Who knew that Milton Hershey would have a role in World War II? During the war, the U.S. Government commissioned Hershey to create a candy bar to be included in the soldier’s rations. It was called Field Ration D, high in nutrition and calories. Creative name, I know. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the Persian Gulf War that Hershey’s Chocolate attempted to get the taste right for soldiers. These were called “Desert Bars”, developed to withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Any candy bar that won’t melt in your mouth until your mouth is over 140 degrees can’t be good, and the soldiers didn’t think so either.
  1. Yes, yes, chocolate is known for its high fat content, high sugar levels, high, well, everything, but it doesn’t appear to raise blood cholesterol levels! That’s something, right?
  1. OK, so far chocolate doesn’t seem to be the healthiest sweet in the world. But check this out: cacao is a bean packed with healthy chemicals like flavonoids and theobromine. Of course, if you ate cacao on your own, your taste buds (and your desire for “healthy chocolate”) would probably die. However, chocolate with at least 70 percent of cacao is beneficial to your health. In small doses, of course.
  1. Here’s a fact specifically for women. In recent studies, a square of dark chocolate a day showed to lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart attack and stroke by 39 percent thanks to flavonoids, antioxidant compounds. Eating chocolate high in this healthy antioxidant also proved to reduce the blood pressure-raising effects of exercise on overweight individuals. And, if that’s not enough, a chocolate bar has five times the flavonoids of an apple. Dark chocolate today keeps the doctor away. Sweet.
  1. Did you know King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle had a chance to be chocolate appreciators themselves? When Christopher Columbus came back from his fourth trip to the Americas he presented cacao beans to the Spanish court. When the king and queen saw the cacao they dismissed the chocolate as bizarre tribal concoctions. Obviously they didn’t know what they were missing.
  1. Here’s a fun story to end with: in Chiapas, Mexico during the 17th century, upper class Spaniards were really addicted to chocolate. They enjoyed the sweet so much that, because of a chocolate ban that forbade them from eating and drinking anything during church services, they decided to attend worship services in convents instead. The Bishop who passed the law was later found dead, ironically, through poison in his daily cup of chocolate. Moral: don’t get in the way of chocolate addicts.
Emily Park

Tags:  chocolate history

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  • http://cocoa101.com Diana McCalla

    Unfortunately, the commercial chocolate you find in the stores carries very little of the heart healthy flavanols, no matter what the cacao content is. The alkalizing and heating processes destroy most of the fragile antioxidants, the same as overcooking your vegetables. There is a company that utilizes a patented cold-press process that keeps all of the antioxidants intact. I have 5 to 6 servings of this healthy chocolate every day, and have for 5 years now. As a result, I no longer take pain pills for the arthritis in my hips, have perfect blood pressure, have been able to raise my HDL without raising my LDL cholesterol and I have lost 10 pounds.



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