Brillat-Savarin, lawyer and French gastronome from the eighteenth century, praised the virtues of chocolate in these words: “Those who have been too long at their labor, who have drunk too long at the cup of voluptuousness, who feel they have become temporarily inhumane, who are tormented by their families, who find life sad and love ephemeral……they should all eat chocolate, and they will be comforted.” – Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin
Incas and Aztecs understood this well. Cacahuatl was a precious drink, reserved for rituals, religious ceremonies or eminences.
Aztecs prepared chocolate by vigorously mixing cocoa, chili and carotenoid-rich roucou in water. Cocoa beans were also used for trading, prized for their medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.
In the botanical world, the tree is called Theobroma cacao – which means food of the gods. Its edible parts, the cacao pods and beans, are processed to make cocoa powder, cocoa butter, or chocolate after being fermented and dried.
The alchemy in today’s chemistry
Raw cacao powder contains more than 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate – more than 20 times than that of blueberries. which make it a “superfood.”
Beyond these nutritive qualities, some of the cacao’s compounds poetically affect your brain function.
- Phenethylamine or PEA may stimulate the nervous system and triggers the release of pleasurable opium-like compounds.
- Theobromide releases the compound anandamide (a derivative of the Sanskrit word “bliss”), which produces euphoric feelings of relaxation and contentment.
- Studies have shown that chocolate affects your emotions and mood by raising serotonin levels, which explains why we crave chocolate when our mood is low.
As chocolate is now sold with more and more added sugar, nutritionists advise eating dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa. However, for most of us, chocolate with 99% cocoa is not necessary a pleasant experience.
A great way to indulge is to come back to hot chocolate.
Cocoa powder is derived from dried powdered chocolate liquor where most of the cocoa butter has been removed. There’s only one gram of sugar in half a cup of raw cacao.
When making hot cocoa, heat the liquid (almond milk, coconut milk or water) gently as overeating will destroy the flavor and texture. Whisk hot chocolate for 30 seconds before serving to enhance the flavors and give an appealing foaming topping.
Coconut or hazelnut milk will deliciously dampen the bitterness of cocoa. Check one of my preferred recipes here.