Chocolate Day Expose

 Chocolate .::le sigh:: The mere mention of the word makes me a happier person. It’s been considered a food of the Gods, an aphrodisiac, health supplement, used in rituals and given for holidays for centuries… it’s like a little piece of heaven on earth! I am lucky enough to have grown up near the world renown Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco; incorporated in 1852, it is the second-oldest chocolate company in the United States. Also from San Francisco, founded a few years later in 1921 is See’s Candies, maker of, “California’s Famous Old Time Candies®” and some seriously wicked chocolate, made from all natural ingredients.
I mean, chocolate and I practically grew up next to each other. It’s like we’re meant to be best friends.
The word ‘Chocolate’ is derived from the Mayan word xocoatl; its history is as rich as the substance itself. July 7th marks the anniversary of when Europeans ‘discovered’ chocolate (like how they ‘discovered’ America!) and it is now recognized as Chocolate Day!  You didn’t think I’d let you miss a holiday about CHOCOLATE, did you? No. Because friends don’t let friends miss an opportunity to eat chocolate. (On that note, World Chocolate Day is on September 4 and National Chocolate Day is on October 28. The Holy Trifecta of Holidays! Well, besides those other ones.)
*Disclaimer: White ‘Chocolate’ is an abomination. It is NOT  chocolate. It is not okay. White chocolate is not meant for consumption, it’s meant for… being disgusting. It’s the King John to King Richard: a sad imposter, an evil cousin, void of color and dark, decadent deliciousness. I’m not biased. These are facts.
I’ve used  Aphrodisiac to Health Food: A Cultural History of Chocolate, by Louis E. Grivetti and good ol’ Google to create a timeline of how chocolate has been used throughout the ages, from treatment of chapped lips, rashes and bronchitis to providing sustenance and energy. (They forgot to mention giving Foodgasms, so I’ll just add that in here myself) Chocolate/cacao has also been used as a remedy for anemia, poor appetite, mental fatigue, poor breast milk production, consumption/tuberculosis, fever, gout, kidney stones, reduced longevity and poor sexual appetite and low virility.Cacao bark, oil leaves and flowers have been used to treat burns, bowel dysfunction, cuts and skin irritations.Who knew chocolate was so versatile?

My favorite find was a from J. Millam Ponce, MD, who said,

 “When nursing babies become ill, the nursing woman should consume a light diet including coffee with milk or chocolate.” 

(I’m assuming it was that to alleviate colic for it’s diuretic effect- maybe thought to help the baby pass any stomach bubbles or bugs?) Having just passed the 6 months exclusively breastfeeding mark, I’m going to break through my own “Doctors are just people getting paid” mentality and take this as a free pass to send my SO out for an almond milk mocha when the baby is crying. (I don’t drink cow milk or even like milk chocolate; dairy has been shown to prevent absorption of the nutrient rich benefits found in dark chocolate and cocoa, but that’s for another post)

So where did all this deliciousness start? Well, let me tell you.

Before initial European-Mexican contact in 1519 cacao was taken only as a beverage and reserved for adult males including priests, high government officials, military officers, distinguished warriors and sacrificial victims, since cacao was considered intoxicating and unsuitable for women and children- harumph!

  • 1558: Francisco Redi, an Italian Chief Physician became court physician to Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and created a hot chocolate recipe for him, who relied on this drink daily. It was thought that the prince was a hypocrondriac or that his illness claims were to disguise his need for the chocolate drink. Ah, royalty and their entourage of enablers- nothing new…
  • 1577: Francisco Hernández, a naturalist and court physician to the King of Spain, wrote that pure cacao paste prepared as a beverage treated fever and liver disease. He also mentioned that toasted, ground cacao beans mixed with resin were effective against dysentery and that chocolate beverages were commonly prescribed to thin patients in order for them to gain “flesh.” Um, super. Once again, custom advice for this skinnybitch. Bring it on!
  • 1590: Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún offered a prescription of cacao beans, maize and the herb tlacoxochitl (Calliandra anomala) to alleviate fever and panting of breath and to treat the faint of heartvia the Florentine Codex, an ethnographic research project in Mesoamerica. It was also perscribed to treat emaciated patients facilitate weight gain, to stimulate nervous systems of apathetic, exhausted or feeble patients, also to improve digestion and elimination to counter the effects of stagnant or weak stomachs, stimulate kidneys and improve bowel function.
  • 1592: Agustin Farfan published the Tractado Breve de Medicina, which said that chili peppers, rhubarb, and vanilla were used by the Mexica as purgatives and that chocolate beverages served hot doubled as laxatives. Wait, laxatives are NOT for gaining “flesh”. Oh well. I’m an American- we just choose our facts anyhow, right? I repeat: Bring it on!
  • 1604: José de Acosta wrote that chili was sometimes added to chocolate beverages and that eating chocolate paste was good for stomach disorders. Chocolate paste? Can I brush my teeth with it?
  • 1624 : Santiago de Valverde Turices concluded that chocolate drank in great quantities was beneficial for treatment of chest ailments and in small quantities was excellent medicine for stomach disorders, and that argued that cacao was “cold” by nature, whereas chocolate prepared from beans was “hot” and “dry” and therefore suitable to prescribe to those suffering from “cold” or “wet” illnesses.
  • 1631: Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma wrote his treatise on chocolate, Curioso Tratado de la Naturaleza. He said that cacao preserved health and made consumers fat, corpulent, faire and amiable and “causeth conception in women … takes away the morpheus, cleaneth the teeth, sweetneth the breath, provokes urine, cures the stone, expels poison, and preserves from all infectious diseases”
  • 1662: Henry Stubbe noted that in the Indies, chocolate was drunk twice each day to restore energy, and that Indian women often survived entirely on chocolate yet did not exhibit a decline in strength, while it strengthened the brain, comforted the womb and dissipated excessive “winde,” or flatus, while vanilla added to chocolate strengthened the heart, “beget strong spirits” and promoted digestion in the stomach. And when achiote was mixed with chocolate it “allays feverish distempers, repels praeternatural tumors, and strengthens the gums” Chocolate: Friend to women as soon as we were allowed to consume it. He noted that chocolate “…helps to digest ill humors, voiding the excrement by sweat, and urine” and that “one may live months, and years using nothing but chocolate”. I might be willing to try that…
  • 1631: Colmenero de Ledesma reported that cacao preserved consumers’ health, made them corpulent, improved their complexions, and made their dispositions more agreeable. He wrote that drinking chocolate incited love-making, led to conception in women, and facilitated delivery. He also claimed that chocolate aided digestion and cured tuberculosis.
`His recipe (found at Choco-Story, along with many other chocolate recipes of yore) is:
· 100 cocoa beans
· 2 chilli’s (black pepper can also be used)
· One pinch of aniseed
· ” ear flower ” (can be replaced by powdered Alexandria roses mecasuchiles)
· 1 vanilla pod
· 60 g cinnamon
· 12 almonds
· 12 hazelnuts
· 450 g sugar
· achiote
  • 1672: William Hughes described chocolate in “The American Physcian or a Treaties of the Roots, Plants, Trees, Shrubs, Fruit, Herbs Growing in the English Plantations of America” as a nourishing and speedy refreshment of travel or hard labor and exercise.It was soon after that American cookbooks began to promote chocolate as a nutritious breakfast food and that summation gained and maintained popularity through the 19th Century.
  • 1850s: Baron von Liebig, a famed German chemist stated, “Chocolate is a perfect food…. It agrees with dry temperaments and convalescents; with mothers who nurse their children; with those whom occupations oblige them to undergo severe mental strains; with public speakers, and with all those who give to work a portion of the time needed for sleep.  It soothes both stomach and brain, and for this reason, as well as for others, it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”
The rest of the timeline was mostly taken from Gourmet, Healthy Chocolates:
  • 1825: Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French Lawyer and Author offered a recipe and perfect cure for hangovers, insomnia, and problems with concentration.
  •   1846: A. Saint-Arroman wrote about chocolate in his book ‘Coffee, Tea and Chocolate: Their Influence Upon Health, The Intellect and Moral Nature of Man’ stating “This alimentary paste, which some persons in good health honour with their partiality and which the physicians recommended to certain sick persons, deserves to be well known, that all may know what temperaments it suits and in what circumstances it may be injurious.” He also began to warn that there were ‘greedy merchants’ who were stretching their chocolate by adding Rice Flour along with other starches. This warning was letting others know that some who consumed ‘adulterated’ chocolate may have stomach and digestive problems. (The was the Industrial Revolution and when chocolate began to lose it’s medicinal properties.)
  • 1870: Florence Nightingale used chocolate and considered it a basic staple to treat the ill. She mentioned in her notes, “….soup, wine and chocolate could certainly have saved hundreds of lives.”
  • 1895 – 1930s: Pharmaceutical companies began producing chocolate covered pills to disguise the bad taste of medicine. You may know of a laxative called ‘Ex-Lax’ that was very popular. There were many chocolate companies that extended their roots into the pharmaceutical arena.
  • 1983: Dr. Andrew Weil concluded that chocolate was a drug. He was the director of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and has written many books on natural medicine and healing. He is noted as saying, “Chocolate has very little caffeine but it has a lot of theobromine, a close relative with similar affects.” He also comments that chocolate is a ‘mood-altering substance that can have strong effects on body and mind and can certainly be addictive.’
  • 1994: Allen M. Young wrote in his book “Chocolate contains more than 300 identified chemical substances including theobromine and methylxanthine; two mildly addictive caffeine-like substances and phenylethylamine a stimulant chemically similar to the human body’s own dopamine and adrenaline.”

Whatever the reason, chocolate has remained a staple in our culture throughout the ages. I also came across 10 Interesting Chocolate Facts: Where I learned chocolate is technically responsible for the microwave! Scientists were experimenting with micro waves in hopes of creating better radar detectors in the wake of World War II and testing devices called magnetrons. A scientist named Percy Spencer entered the lab with a chocolate bar in his pocket and realized it quickly began to melt. Spencer then realized that the magnetron could potentially be used to cook food.  He successfully tried popping corn and then attempted to cook an egg which cooked so quickly, it blew up in his face… and now you know!

Well, at least there’s that…

Alas, even chocolate is not free from the grip of Big Brother; Chocolate Day is a day recognized by the National Confectioners Association, the brains behind The Coalition for Sugar Reform. It turns out that Americans pay twice as much for sugar as the rest of the world– nevermind the obesity rate and the amounts at which we consume it. In addition to the harmful effects of refined sugar on our bodies, sugar production has repeatedly been identified as a contributor to pollution and ecosystem damage. The State of Florida has attempted to buy large tracts of land to halt sugar production; The Everglades Trust is a founding member of the CSR as well. Big Brother likes Big Sugar, just like Big Pharma! I guess nothing really IS safe anymore.

Okay, okay- I don’t want to kill your chocolate buzz…  I’ve already had to take a break from writing to make some chocolate pudding- no joke! My own cookie recipe is another of my of favorite ways to get a chocolate fix- there’s a lot of health information in the post and ingredients in the cookies for anyone, (Though they’re labeled “Lactation Cookies“, if you’re not lactating, there’s no cookie that’s going to spontaneously make that happen, I promise.) They are, however, a more healthful way to indulge, with oats, molasses, brewer’s yeast and dark chocolate chips.
Feel free and follow suit and take the excuse to grab a hot chocolate, a handful of M&Ms, some Chocolate Therapy Ben & Jerry’s, your favorite cookie, cake or whatever form of mom crack chocolate you like best and dig in! You could go all-out and book a treatment at a Chocolate Day Spa or take or entire vacation to experience the history of cocoa, cultivation and the process used in making chocolate in Mayan culture and tour the Eco Museo del Cacao in Tikul, Mexico. Or, if you’re like me and have your hands full and bank account empty, you can take an e-visit to the Chocolate Museum in Belgium. It’s a fun, quick & informative trip!
As always, buying local is best, dark chocolate has the most health benefits and the least amount of sugar. Most milk chocolate contains exponential amounts of sugar (and obviously, contains milk) that is detrimental, not beneficial to your health. But hey- everything in moderation, right? 🙂 Whichever way you choose to celebrate, I appreciate you stopping by & hope maybe you learned something, too!
Happy Chocolate Day!
What’s your favorite way to indulge?
What fact about chocolate is your favorite?

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