Food of the Gods is perhaps an overused phrase, but in the long history of delicacies for which it’s been used, chocolate may be the most apropos. Looking for a famous quote about chocolate to start this essay about my love of — and likely addiction to — this delicious morsel, I was overwhelmed by sheer volume! It appears there are as many quotes about chocolate as there are lovers of chocolate. Here are just a few of my favorites:
“Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power. It is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.” – Baron Justus von Liebig
“If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?” – Marquise de Sévigné
“There’s more to life than chocolate, but not right now.” – Anonymous
Chocolate traces its origins to what is now Central and South America, as human beings must have looked upon the cacao fruits, hanging temptingly from the tree, as an invitation too good to pass up. How they thought to grind the fruit, ferment it and roast it is beyond me, but man is a remarkably curious and inventive species.
The Aztecs demanded that their citizens –as well as the people that they conquered– pay their tributes to them in cacao seeds. While all Mayans and Aztecs imbibed chocolate drinks, it is believed primarily rulers, priests, and decorated soldiers could drink it with regularity. While the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs may have had more than one purpose, the victorious Spaniards brought chocolate back with them to Europe and the world would never be the same.
I don’t wish to spoil my tribute to cocoa by speaking of its dark side, but failing to at least mention the fortunes made on the backs of occasional slave labor would be wrong. The very large majority of cocoa is produced in Africa, perhaps demonstrating why Africa was the birthplace of Homo sapiens. Traders in the commodities markets around the world trade cocoa futures like every other commodity and cause prices to surge and drop, creating a volatile market which forces farmers to do what they must to stay afloat when prices drop.
Much has been made of the health benefits of chocolate, but I can’t imagine anyone honestly enjoying a luscious bit of dark cocoa with flavonoids in mind. Nonetheless, dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, so while the driving force for a piece of Godiva may not be your improved circulatory system, at least you can pretend that it is. Now while these health benefits may not be easily felt, here are a few that are:
- Chocolate stimulates endorphin production, which produces a pleasurable feeling.
- Chocolate contains serotonin, which relieves anxiety and acts as an anti-depressant.
- Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are stimulants.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that the purer the chocolate, the more beneficial it is to your health. Once you load it up with nougat, extra sugar, caramel and perhaps some cookie crunch, you’ve forsaken the opportunity to feign regard for your blood pressure.
Speaking of nougat, the incomparable Snickers bar, made by Mars, has annual global sales of $2 Billion! Snickers may be the best-selling item on the Mars menu, but this juggernaut of confection is the fifth largest privately held company in the United States. M&M’s, Twix, Milky Way bars and more all spring forth from the Mars’ family’s chocolate powerhouse. Mars is famously secretive about their operations and has significant business interests beyond the cocoa bean for which they are best known.
While Mars may be a behemoth in cocoa, they can’t boast about being the biggest. That honor falls upon The Hershey Company, maker of the Kiss and proud parent of Hershey’s Chocolate World in the town that bears its name, Hershey, PA. The chocolate plant in Hershey is the largest in the world covering 2,000,000 square feet of manufacturing area. Hershey’s has a long list of delectable goodies including many varieties of the original chocolate bar, plus:
- Almond Joy
- Mr. Goodbar
- Kit Kat
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (acquired by buying the H. B. Reese Candy Co.)
- York Peppermint Patties
- Milk Duds
This is only a partial list and doesn’t include all the varieties of each and the special seasonal releases.
Chocolate is beloved by the citizens of many countries, but surprisingly the United States is not even in the Top Ten! We’ve got a lot of consumption to do to catch the Swiss who devour more chocolate per capita than any nation on Earth. Treating themselves to the endorphin-boosting product of the cacao tree almost as much as the Swiss are the fine folks of Liechtenstein, a country which I admit I’d never heard of until I researched this article. There are only 35,000 residents in Liechtenstein and they are the wealthiest German-speaking country in the world. They like to spend their wealth on chocolate. Not only that, they can also make the claim of being the only country to lie completely within The Alps. I’m not sure how that affects their chocolate eating habits, but I thought it was a juicy tidbit.
With the powerful love of chocolate firmly established, I will now venture into the human psyche to try to understand the lure of this fermented bean. Is it just the endorphin and serotonin-boosting properties that make us crave it? Can one become physically addicted to it?
Boredom, anxiety and depression hit almost every human being at some point at varying degrees of intensity. The urge to self-medicate, to rid oneself of these feelings and restore peace and tranquility, drive many to cravings for food. Women crave chocolate more than any other food in these times of emotional stress and many are self-described chocoholics. For some women, the cravings intensify on a monthly cycle, which may point to some hormonal basis for wanting to devour a Hershey’s Special Dark bar. Chocolate does have active ingredients that can cause psychological reactions that are similar to other addictive substances, but most professionals fall just shy of calling it a physical addiction. They may be in denial!
A team of US and Canadian neuroscientists scanned brain activity in people eating chocolate. They found increased blood flow to certain areas of the brain that are also activated by cocaine use. They also found interesting changes in the brain chemistry when there were guilty feelings associated with eating the chocolate, and found that some chocoholics would keep eating it even though they didn’t really want anymore. [i]
I close this dissertation on chocolate with my personal tribute to its wonderful yet guilt inducing deliciousness. I have frequently tried over the years to stop the consumption of chocolate when I felt powerless in its grip, and when my expanding waistline told the tale of too many trips to the pantry. I have now given up any attempts at chastity, as life is too short and so often difficult. There are few things in life that give such pleasure as allowing a Hershey’s Miniature to melt ever so slowly in your mouth, and to deprive oneself of that joy seems unforgivably masochistic.
My list of simple pleasures is short:
- Chocolate and her perfect complement: coffee.
- A rockin’ guitar riff coupled with a strong backbeat.
- A fast car.
Once, I left my local Starbucks in a rented Dodge Charger and, accelerating swiftly from a traffic signal turned green, I popped a square of their dark chocolate into my mouth and took a sip of my Grande Red-Eye. At that moment my iPhone’s Shuffle program selected Fire Woman by The Cult and my foot applied just a bit more pressure to the gas pedal. It was a Utopian moment I shall not soon forget as I roared off into the setting sun.