Building up towards “International Chocolate Day” on September 13, I decided to pen a few articles around this unique ‘flavouring ingredient’! Originally considered a gift from the God of Wisdom – Quetzalcoatl, once used as currency, also thought of to be more precious than gold and a delight only to be partaken by higher-ups or royalty…makes one think that there must be more to it that just a dessert! So I started researching on it and it is with pleasure that I share my findings with you on this dark-hued pod!
Chocolate dates back to 450 BC in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of the god of wisdom – Quetzalcoatl and were of so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give the drinker strength! The word “chocolate” is derived from the Classical Nahuatl /Aztec word “chocolātl“.
“Rumor has it that the 16th-century Aztec emperor Montezuma drank three gallons of chocolate a day to increase his libido! “
The Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations found chocolate to be an invigorating drink, mood enhancer and aphrodisiac, which led them to believe that it possessed mystical and spiritual qualities.The Mayans worshipped a god of cacao and reserved chocolate for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies.
Chocolate remained an aristocratic nectar until Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the cocoa press in 1828, which revolutionized chocolate-making. The cocoa press could squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake that could be pulverized into a fine powder, that could be mixed with liquids and other ingredients, poured into molds and solidified into edible, easily digestible chocolate. The innovation by Van Houten ushered in the modern era of chocolate by enabling it to be used as a confectionary ingredient, and the resulting drop in production costs made chocolate affordable to the masses.
The Chemistry Of Chocolate 
Think chocolate can give you a high? Well…
- For starters, the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world is found in chocolate [source: Fackelmann]. The compound 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine — better known as caffeine produces a stimulating physiological effect by exciting the central nervous system, which, in turn, increases heart rate and contracts muscles. Caffeine acts on dopamine and adenosine receptors in the brain, which then release their respective pleasure-producing chemicals.
- Another compound that’s closely related to the active ingredient in marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinol-9) is also found in chocolate. When cannabinoids hit the CB1 and CB2 receptors (found most predominantly in the frontal cortex and the parts of the brain responsible for motor function and memory), a person starts to feel intoxicated and relaxed as a result [source: Medscape].
- Chocolate also packs in another surprise…Phenylethylamine which is often called the “love drug,” since it releases the same chemicals that are introduced into the human body when love comes calling [source: Millward]. The compound produces a similar effect to the one produced by amphetamines, and is classified as a hallucinogen!
The Benefits Of Chocolate
Dark chocolate has a wealth of health benefits. Listed below are only some of them:
Chocolate helps combat excess free radicals given its high antioxidant content. Rich in flavonoids, it helps prevent premature aging of cells. It can also be used as a facial and body mask.
Chocolate is a stimulant that gives us an energy boost when we need it. This is essential to feel full of vitality throughout the day!
Dark chocolate can improve eyesight due to its flavonoid content, which improves blood flow to the brain and the retina.
Chocolate contains a chemical called anandamide which improves our mood and overall state of mind, reducing the chances of depression. In addition, eating this food stimulates serotonin production in the brain, which helps us to feel happier, and prevents us from feeling anxious, moody or stressed.
Types Of Chocolate 
Chocolate should be consumed in its purest possible state, without mixing it with milk and large amounts of added sugar, for it to be considered healthy and non-fattening. This is because milk and sugar add fat. The cocoa itself is not fattening. Dark chocolate is the best choice, as it is the purest form and provides the most health benefits. It goes without saying that chocolate and other similar products should always be consumed in moderation.
This must contain a minimum of 50% of cocoa paste to be considered dark, giving it quite a bitter taste. This chocolate is richer in the properties listed in the first section of the article, like antioxidants.
It is usually eaten more, especially by children, since it is sweeter. The proportion of cocoa is below 40%, though it can contain up to 50% in gourmet confections. Milk does provide calcium, but the chocolate itself is less pure so it provides less benefits overall, and it is more fattening than dark chocolate.
This type contains at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, 3.5% milk fat and up to 55% sugar or other sweeteners. This mixture is made with cocoa butter instead of solids, so it acquires a yellow hue together with the milk powder and sugar. Bad quality white chocolates are completely white instead of yellow, as they do not have any cocoa butter at all.
MODERN DAY 
Coming back to our present times, roughly two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with Ivory Coast being the largest source, producing a total crop of 1,448,992 tonnes. Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are other West African countries among the top 5 cocoa producing countries in the world.
Chocolate is a delicacy that is now easily affordable and the number of professional chocolatiers around the world has risen beyond expectation.
‘ART OF CHOCOLATE’ MASTERCLASS
If you feel compelled to learn more about chocolate, there is an “Art of Chocolate” Professional Masterclass given by Industry experts in the heart of Brussels. You will experience the Belgian Chocolate Savoir-faire and learn from the best experts to acquire professional skills to create and sell premium chocolates.
They speak of a 4 key program with highly talented people from the industry, focusing mainly on: The art of perfecting, creating, making and selling of chocolate! They also offer tailored masterclasses dedicated to businesses and teams. Learn more: HERE
Look out for my next article on chocolate where I will chat with Laurence Koutny, founder of “Art of Chocolate” and Winner of the 2013 Belgian Business Manager Trends Woman Award!
Thank you for joining me and hope to see you soon on ‘chriselda.blog‘
BY CHRISELDA BARRETTO
 Source “The Sweet History Of Chocolate” by Christopher Klein
 Source “Can chocolate give me a happy-high?” by Josh Clark
 Source “Is Chocolate Fattening?” by Max D Gray
Check out more projects by Chriselda Barretto