The saying may go, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach", but what about women? It is a long standing tradition to present a woman with a box of chocolate as a romantic gesture. Is it simply because women love chocolate or does the root of this tradition go deeper? Curiosity led me to do some research on the subject and here is what I found.
First of all I wanted to know if chocolate was truly an aphrodisiac. An aphrodisiac is reputed to "put you in the mood for love" and the name comes from the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite. It is possible that the aphrodisiacal qualities come from our own mindset and expectations. First of all, we get a certain amount of pleasure from consuming chocolate. For one, the melting point of chocolate is slightly below human body temperature so it melts in your mouth. That in itself is a stimulating experience but what about the substances found in chocolate? And what are the roots of chocolate as an aphrodisiac in history? I found a lot of useful information but as you would expect, I found conflicting arguments on whether or not it is an aphrodisiac, so I decided to come to my own conclusion and I urge you to do the same.
One report said that the Aztecs considered all chocolate an aphrodisiac. Because of this, all foods made with chocolate were strictly forbidden to women. However, another report stated that the Aztecs and Mayans were the first to recognize the potency of this food, celebrating the harvest with festivals of wild orgies. I guess both could be true (and may be) but it seems to me that if they were having wild orgies, they would want the women to eat it. I don't know, that's just my opinion, but in either case, the Aztecs apparently considered it an aphrodisiac.
There are people throughout history who also believed in the stimulating qualities of chocolate. In 1624 Johan Franciscus Rauch, a professor in Vienna, condemned chocolate as an inflamer of passions and urged monks not to drink it as he wanted to ban it in the monasteries. It is said that Madame du Barry, courtesan and mistress of Louis XV, always served her lovers a cup of chocolat before they were let in to her bedroom, and that the great lover and alchemist Casanova, who drank his cioccolata at Cafe Florian in Venice , considered chocolate more stimulating than champagne and called it the "elixir of love". Montezuma supposedly drank a cup of chocolate before entering his harem.
Ok, I am convinced that people in history have found chocolate to be an aphrodisiac, but why? Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring amino-acid which some consider to have aphrodisiacal effects and is even said to be able to "cure" hangovers. Phenylethylamine is a substance which is released naturally in the human body when you're in love. Other stimulants present in chocolate are dopamine and serotonin, which alleviate pain and encourage a good mood. Serotonin produces feelings of pleasure in a similar way to sunlight. Chocolate also contains theobromine, a chemical stimulant frequently confused with caffeine, but has very different effects on the human body. It is a mild, lasting stimulant with a mood improving effect. Its presence is one of the causes for chocolate's mood-elevating effects. (Note – In chocolate, theobromine exists in doses that are safe for humans to consume in large quantities, but can be lethal for animals such as dogs and horses, as they metabolize theobromine more slowly.)
Wow, no wonder I love it so much! What more does a person need than a mood elevating, stimulating, pleasurable, not to mention, great tasting, experience? I must mention, however, that some sources state that there is no evidence of chocolate having a true aphrodisiac effect. My opinion, who cares? With all that happening, if it doesn't put you in the mood, it won't take much encouragement to get you there. Excuse me, I seem to be craving some chocolate ……
© 2005 Patricia Fason
by Patricia Fason