The Food of Love
This Valentine’s Day, take a step back in history as we travel through time to discover we aren’t the only ones in love with chocolate
As long ago as 200 - 900 BC, the Mayan Goddess of Chocolate, Ixcacao, was worshipped as a fertility goddess.
Aztec King, Montezuma II used to drink 50 cups daily (even more when he had a date), and, with 4000 concubines, I imagine he needed it! Women, on the other hand, were not allowed to drink cocoa.
In the 16th century, people were so wild about chocolate that the Catholic Church had to investigate whether or not it was sinful to overindulge in the drink, and if it was acceptable to imbibe it during fasting days – during Lent, for example. Clerics condemned chocolate as sinful and thought it was an aphrodisiac and could cause promiscuous sexual activity in normally upright people.
In France, Madame de Sevigne wrote about enormous chocolate consumption throughout the court at Versailles in 1671; Louis IV drank it daily and Madame du Barry was said to use chocolate mixed with amber to stimulate her lovers.
Giacomo Casanova, the world’s most famous lover, also had the secret weapon of chocolate. He savoured it before every romantic escapade, even drinking a mug of rich cocoa right before love making.
Richard Cadbury is said to have been one of the first chocolate makers who had the idea of linking chocolate treats to Valentine’s Day. He was an artist as well as a businessman, and his company launched decorated boxes of chocolates to be given as gifts on February 14, with the suggestion of saving the boxes as a place to store secret love letters.
From the earliest days of ‘talkies’, chocolate has been cast as the go-to symbol of seduction. Jean Harlow’s performance in the 1933 film Dinner at Eight forever linked chocolate to decadent indulgence. Draped in satin and sequins, she lounges in bed on a heart-shaped pillow, and - as a finishing touch - suggestively nibbles her way through a giant box of chocolates.
THE SCIENCE BIT
Chocolate is a complex material possessing numerous compounds that act upon the brain, producing a sense of delight that no other substance can replicate. Chocolate is surprisingly good for health, especially for the heart.
Chocolate gets right to the heart of sexual pleasure by increasing the brain’s level of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical. Serotonin plays a major role in positive mood, emotional health, proper sleep and balanced appetite, contributing to numerous behavioural
and physiological functions.
Probably the most influential love compound in chocolate is PEA, phenethylamine. This chemical, which occurs in chocolate in small quantities, stimulates the nervous system and triggers the release of pleasurable opium-like compounds known as endorphins. PEA also potentiates the activity of dopamine, a neurochemical directly associated with sexual arousal and pleasure. PEA acts as a potent antidepressant in both sexes and rises during periods of romance. The giddy, restless feelings that occur when we are in love are due to a great extent to PEA, which significantly increases in the brain at that time, and when we achieve orgasm. Some scientists dismiss this notion, claiming that the PEA in chocolate is metabolized too quickly to produce a significant mood-altering effect, but others disagree. Why else would chocolate be so inextricably intertwined with love and romance?
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