By Henrylito D. Tacio
If life could be compared to something sweet, then chocolate would be more like it. As Forrest Gump (played by award-winning Tom Hanks) said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Chocolates are very popular around the world. Every time I am in the airport waiting for my plane, you can find me eating a chocolate. They come in different forms and sizes and the boxes are always beautiful.
There’s more to chocolate than just for eating. “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?” French writer Marquise de Sévigné wondered.
“Any sane person loves chocolate,” declared Bob Greene. In fact, “nine out of ten people like chocolate. And the tenth person lies,” said John Q. Tullius. Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, believed that what people really need is love. “But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” he added.
Oftentimes, chocolates have been equated with love and romance. John Milton wrote, “Love is just like eating large amounts of chocolate.” Miranda Ingram argued, “It’s not that chocolates are a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate. Chocolate is, let’s face it, far more reliable than a man.”
Chemically speaking, “chocolate really is the world’s perfect food,” to quote the words of Michael Levine, the author of The Emperors of Chocolate. As Geronimo Piperni puts it: “Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.”
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said chocolates are “helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work.” Baron Justus von Liebig considered this beneficent restorer of exhausted power as “the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”
Some years back, I was touring a group of American kids at the farm in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur. While walking, an eight-year-old boy inquired, “What is that?” as he pointed the cacao tree. “That’s where chocolates come from,” I replied. Almost immediately, every stopped. “How do you get chocolates from that tree?” they chorused.
Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Central America and Mexico. Although Christopher Columbus came to know the beans, it was Hernando Cortes who brought it to Spain. “The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits man to walk for a whole day without food,” he wrote.
In the Philippines, it has been cultivated since the 17th century when Spanish mariner Pedro Bravo de Lagunas planted the crop in San Jose, Batangas. Since then, cacao growing flourished in the different parts of the country.
The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground and liquefied, resulting in pure chocolate in fluid form: chocolate liquor. The liquor can be further processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, combining chocolate with sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk.
If you care to know, the word “chocolate” comes from the Mexico’s Aztecs and is derived from the Nahuatl word xocolatl, which is a combination of the words, xocolli, meaning “bitter,” and atl, which is “water.”
While chocolate is regularly eaten for pleasure, there are potential beneficial health effects of eating chocolate. Cocoa or dark chocolate reportedly benefits the circulatory system. Other beneficial effects suggested include anticancer, brain stimulator, cough preventor, and antidiarrheal effects. As an aphrodisiac, its effect is yet unproven.
Recent studies have suggested that cocoa or dark chocolate may possess certain beneficial effects on human health. Cocoa possesses a significant antioxidant action. Some studies have also observed a modest reduction in blood pressure and flow-mediated dilation after consuming dark chocolate daily.
There has even been a fad diet, named “Chocolate diet,” that emphasizes eating chocolate and cocoa powder in capsules. However, consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, or drinking fat-containing milk with dark chocolate, appears largely to negate the health benefit.
A study reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation indicated that melting chocolate in one’s mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended.
People having headache are advised not to eat chocolates. The reason: chocolates contain tyramine, a chief suspect in causing headaches. However, many young people outgrow this chemical reaction. “The body appears to build up a tolerance,” says Dr. Seymour Diamond, who has co-written several books on headaches.
If you have heartburn, you should avoid eating chocolates, too. The sweet confection deals heartburn sufferers a double whammy. It is nearly all fat and it contains caffeine (which may irritate an already inflamed esophagus).
“Other things are just food. But chocolate’s chocolate,” said Patrick Skene Catling. That’s why Brillat-Savarin advises, “If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have become temporarily dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of chocolate – and marvels will be performed.”
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