From Ancient Culture to Modern Medicine…Chocolate’s Worldly Secrets

Feb 15, 2013 by

 

 

Valentines Day has come and gone but now that box of chocolates is sitting there tempting you. Or did you eat it all in one night?! What is it about chocolate that tempts and delights us? Especially women? If there are two things I love learning about from a socio-cultural perspective it is chocolate and wine.  I can’t indulge in too much of either but maybe this is the “healthy epicurean’s secret”.  As Epicurus the ancient Greek philosopher and founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism said ” Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” 

 

 

 

Chocolate is not only a delicious treat but also has nutritional and therapeutic properties which we are hearing a lot about lately.  Is this an invitation to eat more chocolate sweets? Not quite! Check out Dr. Mao’s ( my favorite wellness guide and doctor) pros and cons overview to reap the benefits of chocolate and not the pounds!

Here is my cheat sheet: to reap the full health benefits, you need to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate, as the milk may prevent the body from absorbing the antioxidants. Go for chocolate with at least 72% cocoa, and make sure that it doesn’t contain any partially hydrogenated fat.

Now that we covered the important healthy facts about chocolate let’s take a quick world tour of how the little cacao bean became beloved by the world in the form of chocolate.

Truly Herself
Lauroly 

 

From Bean to Beverage, from Beverage to Confectionery, Chocolate Travels the World…

Did you know the ancient Olmec people occupying an area of tropical forests south of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico were responsible for cultivating the cacao tree from which chocolate is derived? Many historians are certain now that the Olmec people and not the Aztec’s were the true founders. Later the Mayans believed (understandably!) the tree  belonged to the God’s and the pods growing from the tree were their gifts to man. The “drink of the gods” was created and it was a much more bitter brew than the hot chocolate we know today.  After the demise of the Mayan culture the Aztecs developed their own concoction called Xocolatl from cacao beans and traded the beans with the Spanish colonist. Oh how I do go on…

This story and history of this magical bean gets better but I am writing a blog and will have to share my secret to sounding like a chocolate guru!  The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Chocolate  is the best comprehensive and illustrative book on chocolate you will find. And yes it is filled with recipes! Let’s do a quick world tour from the book with a few comments from me sprinkled in …

 

Spain: The Spanish like their chocolate thick–so thick that a spoon will stand up on it and it can almost be classified as a food rather than a drink. There are “chocolaterias” all over the cities in Spain and historically they associated their chocolate drinks as stimulants like coffee and tea.  A traditional time to take the beverage is in the morning with freshly cooked “churos” a fried dough.  Don’t be jealous we have Starbucks!

 

Italy: The Italians like their chocolate sweet and nutty. Yes think Perugia chocolate! The theory is chocolate was brought to Italy as “medicine” through the convents and monasteries. But Italians were the most creative with their chocolate usage in culinary dishes. Liver dipped in Chocolate ( wish I thought of that when I had to eat Liver as a child!) Chocolate Soup and Candied Fruit were just some imaginative uses. Mangia!

France: The French prefer dark and intensely flavored chocolate ( think Michel Cluizel). Also quick to fall under “chocolate’s spell” France recognized chocolate for its therapeutic properties. French doctors at one time believed chocolate was beneficial for chronic illnesses and broken hearts. The French historian Bonaventure d’Argonne said the Cardinal of Lyon drank chocolate “to calm his spleen and appease his rage and foul temper”.  Ha! This explains why I kept chocolates on my office desk! Meetings are far more tolerable and less “foul’! Marie Antoinette was also very fond of chocolate.  Chocolate was thought of as powerful aphrodisiac and the royalty of her time threw fashionable parties called  “chocolate du roi”.  It was the ultimate chic to be invited.  Anyone for a chocolate fondue party or maybe too 1990’s for you? lol

Germany & Austria: Both countries like their chocolate smooth and filled with the finest ingredients (think Fedora). Champagne Truffles anyone?! After the late mid-seventeenth century, chocolate was making an appearance in all the principal cities of Europe. Germany was late to the party and regarded Chocolate as medicine. You mainly found it in their apothecaries.  It eventually made its way into fashionable society. Among Germany’s confirmed Chocoholics was the famous poet Goethe who was reputed to have found the beverage a source of inspiration and drank it well into his old age. Very wise…

United States of America: On a mass level we love our sweet milk chocolate ( think Hershey’s Bar) but  our taste palates have evolved to embrace a cornucopia of chocolate treats (think Ghirardelli). True to our democratic and capitalistic ideals, we market chocolate to the masses not just the elite! In America there was an emphasis on wholesomeness rather than sophistication. Thomas Jefferson was quoted saying” The superiority of chocolate both for health and nourishment will soon give it the preference over tea and coffee in America which it has for Spain”.  A trend forecast not entirely accurate!

Enjoy your Chocolate and remember there is a difference between being a healthy epicurean and a glutten! If you don’t eat too much in one sitting you can enjoy chocolate all year round in moderation.  Some nutritional experts today even recommend a cup of cocoa to start your day every day but that would be the real unsweetened cocoa powder! Add a little cinnamon and you are good to go…

 

 

 

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