By Jarod Todeschi
Valentine’s Day, like many other holidays, is partially built on a chocolate framework. Truffle-filled and edible hearts dressed in their finest pink and red ribbons grace the shelves of convenience and grocery stores everywhere. Chocolate takes no prejudice on the single, either, who can take advantage of the leftover clearance discounts on Feb. 15th the real holiday.
Chocolate’s Valentine’s affiliation might also be tied with its position as an aphrodisiac. History traces back to Aztecs linking the cocoa bean with sexual desire, a claim that has been contested, and proven over time. The New York Times reported that scientifically, the chemical construction of chocolate can be credited as, “one, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love.”
Because the amounts of these chemicals are so minute in chocolate they wouldn’t impact people’s behavior in normal consumption amounts, so the refrain of the correlation might just be coincidentally hyperbolic.
It suggests however, that across time people have never needed an excuse to consume chocolate. In the present, half of the candy consumed per year contains chocolate. It was even considered an essential in rations for United States soldiers during World War II. Incorporating it into your sustenance beyond its notoriety as celebratory sweet could even prove beneficial.
The spectrum from baking cocoa to white chocolate is differentiated by various levels of fillers diluting the essence of the original acidic bean. Dark chocolate must contain at least 35 percent of cocoa solids, while milk chocolate must be 10 percent liquified cocoa and 10 percent whole milk. White chocolate is mostly butter, milk and sugar with trace amounts of actual cocoa.
Dark chocolate has antioxidants that can help boost blood flow and prevent cholesterol accumulation in the vessels. Dark chocolate can also help digestion and immune health by feeding our gut’s necessary bacteria beneficial microbes, like lactic acid, according to research conducted by the American Chemical Society.
On the relationship between cocoa levels and health benefits, Dietician Nurse Rachel Snyder said, “At 100 percent, that cocoa would have a lot of benefits,” but as the additives start to shape the sweetness people demand from chocolate indulgence, “you’re losing those benefits.” Good news for those who prefer a bitter bite from their Ghirardelli or Hershey treats.
Depending on preference, there is plenty of chocolate available to satisfy even the pickiest of tastes, conforming pleasantly with both sweet and savory flavors. Whether its orange, mint or tree nut inspired, chocolate can be very enjoyable chilled in the freezer or refrigerator. There is never a bad time to have a bit, if you’re rushing in the morning or pairing it with a red glass of fellow antioxidants for an evening unwind.
Packages of powdered hot chocolate can also easily become a rich and fun microwave mug brownie. Use a mug to thoroughly mix up one pack with two tbsp melted butter, two tbsp water, four tbsp of flour, a splash of vanilla extract and pinch of salt to taste, adding or omitting up to two tbsp of sugar depending on sweetness preference. Sprinkle sprinkles, nuts, marshmallows or nothing on top, microwave for one minute and enjoy with a spoon.
Beyond its eclectic reputation, chocolate is a great comfort food and historically bound to the human condition. Even if it fails to cure illness or influence our brain chemistry as it might in our imaginations, it is securely good for the soul, and a comfort all should enjoy no matter what day of the year it is.