Valentine’s Day is here, which, depending on how you feel about it, either conjures visions of red roses, greeting cards, cupid’s arrow, and candies, or makes you gag and want to stop reading at the mention of the syrupy word. But don’t leave! We are going to talk about chocolate! Before we dive in it’s worth noting how chocolates became synonymous with Valentine’s Day. The cacao plant has been used for eating and drinking for thousands of years, most notably in the Mayan culture where it was often mixed with herbs and spices. But in relation to Valentine’s Day, History.com states that in the 1840’s, when Victorians were big on courting and lavish gifts, Richard Cadbury, the British chocolate manufacturer, discovered a new concoction that made for tasty “eating chocolate”. He saw his opportunity to market this new chocolate to those looking to woo their love interest, and over the years chocolates became a go-to gift, especially on Valentine’s Day, which was becoming more popular during this era.
Dear Chocolate . . . You Complete Me
There are other, more scientific and sensory-based reasons why chocolate is one of the top selling products in the U.S. for Valentine’s Day. Chocolate not only tastes wonderful, but also has a decadent feel on the palate that can be described as sensuous. In fact, chocolate is one of the only foods that has a melting point the same as that of the human body. So, to say that chocolate melts in your mouth is literally true! I like to think that chocolate scientifically and spiritually melds with us and therefore I am meant to consume it often!
The Wondrous Cacao Plant
Anytime I travel I make it a point to visit chocolate factories or chocolate artisan shops to sample different types of the treat. Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, which comes from the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), native to the deep tropical regions of the Americas. When I was in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, I visited a chocolate plantation and viewed the trees with the large cacao pods hanging on them. In Belize I witnessed the cacao pods being harvested and the different processes used to make chocolate. And I’d like to give a special shout-out to one of my favorite chocolatiers: Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco.
Did you know that different soils yield different flavors of chocolate? And even the fermentation process and the roasting process, which is different among manufacturers, creates distinct flavors in chocolates. But the Mayans are the ones who really embraced the cacao tree and made it a large part of their culture. Their word for chocolate is Xocolatl, and the drink they historically enjoyed with it was rather bitter, especially compared to what many people enjoy today; milk, swiss, and white chocolate. Traditional and artisan chocolates do not contain milk. They are darker with a higher content of cacao. The Mayans just mixed the cacao right in with hot water and drank it.
Chemical Effects of Chocolate on the Body
Another reason that chocolate is popular and widely consumed is because of its positive-feeling effects on the body. Cacao contains different properties that give our body phenethylamine, a chemical compound that makes us feel good. It also raises our serotonin level which is also responsible for pleasurable feelings. Subconsciously that’s what makes us want to grab a piece of chocolate when we are feeling blue. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate doesn’t contain caffeine, but a sister compound to caffeine called Theobromine, which acts similar. Theobromine is a stimulant, so be cautious with how much chocolate you are eating; it can keep you up at night and dark chocolate is actually a trigger-food on the migraine headache list. As with everything, enjoy it in moderation. Recently, a trend has emerged called ‘ritual chocolate’, in which it is not oxidized or processed, but just raw cacao powdered down. When eaten this way one actually experiences a euphoric feeling. The Mayans are like, duh–we told you it was good that way. Chocolate rituals are starting to pop up around Colorado and elsewhere.
Physical Effects of Chocolate on the Body
Dark chocolate contains more flavonols than chocolate with lower percentages of cacao. Some chocolate companies will still call their product dark
chocolate because it has a certain percentage of cacao, but they may have processed it by alkalizing, which causes the cacao to lose the flavonols. But you actually want those flavonols. They are a chemical component that helps your circulation. Among many other benefits, good circulation is needed for a healthy sex life. Our blood vessels in our genitals need circulation for arousal, feeling, and performance. So, ensure you are getting high quality chocolate, or craft chocolate. You can justify the higher price by saying it’s for the benefit of your sex life!
Here’s a thought-provoking example of the power of flavonols in chocolate: In Panama there is striking evidence that flavonol-rich cacao contributes to overall well-being. A study looked at a community of people in Panama that were drinking five cups of cacao a day, with high flavonol content. It was discovered that there is not one instance of high blood pressure in the group, no increase in blood pressure with age in any of the subjects, and very low hypertension. This is significant because it is very opposite of what we see in people in the developed world.
In the Botanical Bedroom: Plant on Plant Love
Chocolate is already amazing on its own, but you can really have fun experimenting with adding different flavors and complexities to it in the form of herbs and spices. And when you add botanical benefits to a plant extract that has benefits of its own like helping circulation–it’s just a win-win. You can make unique blends that are great for appetizers, desserts, or gifts.
Bridget’s Recipes for Botanical Chocolate
HERBAL: Some of my favorite herbs and spices to mix with chocolate are ginger and cayenne. Cayenne even doubles up on the circulatory system component, adding to the already-present flavonols and delivering blood supply to areas of the body faster.
FLORAL: I suggest rose petals, lavender, and damiana. This is actually the lovely concoction that makes up my Frolic bitters. Damiana is traditionally an aphrodisiac in Mexico; that’s why this particular blend of bitters is meant to arouse the senses. I also include Damiana in my Sexual Vitality Tea.
COMBINATION: You can experiment with adding opposite flavors in chocolate, such as cayenne and rose, and get ready for the amazing burst of flavors in your mouth!
- In a double boiler, or crock pot, add chocolate chips, and melt at a medium consistent temperature.
- Be sure to stir constantly as chocolate can burn easily.
- Grind and powder your herbs and use a sieve to add them to the melted chocolate.
- Pour into your chosen mold (hearts for Valentine’s Day, anyone?) and let cool.