The Nation's Health + metabolism

Health Tips: Chocolate


is a psychoactive food. It is made from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. The cacao tree was named by the 17th century Swedish naturalist, Linnaeus. The Greek term theobroma means literally "food of the gods". Chocolate has also been called the food of the devil; but the theological basis of this claim is obscure.

Cacao beans were used by the Aztecs to prepare to a hot, frothy beverage with stimulant and restorative properties. Chocolate itself was reserved for warriors, nobility and priests. The Aztecs esteemed its reputed ability to confer wisdom and vitality. Taken fermented as a drink, chocolate was also used in religious ceremonies. The sacred concoction was associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. Emperor Montezuma allegedly drank 50 goblets a day. Aztec taxation was levied in cacao beans. 100 cacao beans could buy a slave. 12 cacao beans bought the services of courtesan.

The celebrated Italian libertine Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) took chocolate before bedding his conquests. This was on account of chocolate's reputation as a subtle aphrodisiac. More recently, a study of 8000 male Harvard graduates showed that chocaholics lived longer than abstainers. Their longevity may be explained by the high polyphenol levels in chocolate. Polyphenols reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins and thereby protect against heart disease. Such theories are still speculative.

Chocolate as we know the confectionery today dates to the inspired addition of triglyceride cocoa butter by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. The advantage of cocoa butter is that its addition to chocolate sets a bar so that it will readily snap and then melt on the tongue. Cocoa butter begins to soften at around 75 F; it melts at around 97 F.

Today, chocolate is legal, unscheduled and readily available over the counter. Some 50% of women reportedly claim to prefer chocolate to sex, though this response may depend on the attributes of the interviewer. More than 300 different constituent compounds in chocolate have been identified. Chocolate clearly delivers far more than a brief sugar high. Yet its cocktail of psychochemical effects in the central nervous system are poorly understood.

What's in Chocolate?

Chocolate contains small quantities of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain. Sceptics claim one would need to consume several pounds of chocolate to gain any very noticeable effects; and eat a lot more to get fully stoned. Yet it's worth noting that N-oleolethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine, two structural cousins of anandamide present in chocolate, both inhibit the metabolism of anandamide. It has been speculated that they promote and prolong the feeling of well-being that anandamide can induce.

Chocolate contains caffeine. But the caffeine is present only in modest quantities. It is easily obtained from other sources.

hocolate's theobromine content may contribute to - but seems unlikely to determine - its subtle but distinctive profile.

Chocolate also contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. It is the rate-limiting step in the production of the mood-modulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Enhanced serotonin function typically diminishes anxiety. Yet tryptophan can normally be obtained from other sources as well.

Like other palatable sweet foods, consumption of chocolate causes the release of endorphins, the body's endogenous opiates. Enhanced endorphin-release reduces the chocolate-eater's sensitivity to pain. Endorphins probably contribute to the warm inner glow induced in susceptible chocaholics.

Acute monthly cravings for chocolate amongst pre-menstrual women may be partly explained by its rich magnesium content. Magnesium deficiency exacerbates PMT. Before menstruation, too, levels of the hormone progesterone are high. Progesterone promotes fat storage, preventing its use as fuel; and thus elevated pre-menstrual levels of progesterone may cause a periodic craving for fatty foods. One study reported that 91% of chocolate-cravings associated with the menstrual cycle occurred between ovulation and the start of menstruation. Chocolate cravings are admitted by 15% of men and around 40% of women. Cravings are usually most intense in the late afternoon and early evening.

Perhaps chocolate's key ingredient is its phenylethylamine "love-chemical". Yet the role of the "chocolate amphetamine" is disputed. Most if not all chocolate-derived phenylethylamine is metabolised before it reaches the CNS. Some people may be sensitive to its effects in very small quantities.

Phenylethylamine is itself a naturally occurring trace amine in the brain. Phenylethylamine releases mesolimbic dopaminein the pleasure-centres. It peaks during orgasm. Taken in unnaturally high doses, phenylethylamine can produce stereotyped behaviour more prominently even than amphetamine. Phenylethylamine has distinct binding sites but no specific neurons. It helps mediate feelings of attraction, excitement, giddiness, apprehension and euphoria. One of its metabolites is unusually high in subjects with paranoid schizophrenia.

There is even a phenylethylamine theory of depression. Monoamine oxidase type-b has been described as phenylethylaminase; and taking an selective MAO-b inhibitor, selegiline (l-deprenyl), can accentuate chocolate's effects. Some subjects report that bupropion (Wellbutrin) reduces their chocolate-cravings; but other chocaholics dispute this. From

How to Melt Chocolate Microwave: Place unwrapped broken pieces of chocolate in a microwave-safe dish. Heat for about 30 seconds, then remove the dish and stir the chocolate. It may not have changed shape, but it is softening. Return to microwave and repeat until just melted. Double Boiler: Place unwrapped chocolate in top pan. Melt over hot water. Do not let the top pot come in contact with the water in the bottom pot. Stir for 6-8 minutes or until melted.

Saucepan: Not recommended but if you must, place unwrapped chocolate in pan. Melt over very low heat. Stir constantly. How to Temper Chocolate

The experts at Ghirardelli explain tempering as follows, "Tempering is a method of heating and cooling chocolate for coating or dipping with chocolate. Proper tempering results in chocolate that has a smooth and glossy finish. The tempered chocolate will have a crisp snap and won't melt on your fingers as easily as improperly tempered chocolate. Properly tempered chocolate is also great for molding candies because the candies will release out of the molds more easily and still retain a glossy finish". And they have come up with two easy methods to do it:

Method 1

Grate or chop desired amount of chocolate. Place two-thirds of the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler. Heat over hot, not boiling, water, stirring constantly, until chocolate reaches 110 to 115o F. Place the top pan of the double boiler on a towel. Cool to 95 to 100o F. Add the remaining one-third of chocolate to that top pan, stirring until melted. The chocolate is now ready to be used for molding candies, coating or dipping.

Method 2

Starting with a pound of broken chocolate, melt two-thirds of the chocolate over indirect heat, such as in the top pan of a double boiler. Melt just until the chocolate is liquid and smooth (At 110 to 115o F). When it is smooth, add the remaining one-third of broken chocolate and heat again until the entire chocolate becomes smooth. Pour the chocolate onto a marble or laminate surface. Using a spatula, scrape and stir the chocolate across the surface to smooth and cool it. When the chocolate is cooled to 80 to 82o F, return the chocolate to the top pan of the double boiler. Place over hot, not boiling, water. Heat and stir constantly, until it reaches 87 to 91o F. Remove the top pan of the double boiler. The chocolate is now ready to be used for molding candies, coating or dipping.

Storing Chocolate

You should store your chocolate tightly-wrapped in a cool dry place. Preferably the temperature should get no higher than 75o F in the summer and no lower than 60o F in the winter. If absolutely necessary, during the summer, chocolate can be stored in the refrigerator. However, be sure it's double-wrapped and in a plastic zipper-type bag (with all the air pressed out). Chocolate will absorb odors from other foods if not properly wrapped..

Types of Chocolate

Different types are created by what is added to or removed from the chocolate liquor. That is how the different flavors and varieties of chocolate are created. Each has a different chemical make-up and the differences are not solely in taste. Always be sure to use the specific chocolate that a recipe calls for, as different varieties will react differently to heat and moisture.Unsweetened or Baking chocolate is just cooled, hardened chocolate liquor. It is primarily used as an ingredient in recipes.

* Semi-sweet chocolate is mostly used in recipes as an ingredient. It has extra cocoa butter and sugar added. Sweet cooking chocolate is basically the same, just with more sugar.

* Milk chocolate is chocolate liquor with extra cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla added. By far, the most popular form for chocolate. It is for the most part an eating chocolate.

* Cocoa powder is chocolate liquor with much of the cocoa butter removed. This fine powder can pick up moisture and odors from other food products, so treat it like your fine spices by storing in a cool, dry place with a tight fitting cover.

* White chocolate is somewhat of a misnomer. In the U.S, to be legally called 'chocolate' the product must contain real cocoa solids. White chocolate does not contain these solids, which leaves it a smooth ivory or beige color. Real white chocolate is primarily cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla. There are some products on the market that pretend to be white chocolate, but are made with vegetable oils instead of cocoa butter. Do your best to avoid these imitations. White chocolate is the most delicate type of chocolate; use caution when heating or melting it.

Is chocolate really an aphrodisiac ?

On romantic occasions, the most popular gift exchanged between lovers is a box of chocolates. Even the ancient Aztecs and Mayans (circa 600 AD) of South America loved it. There some very good reasons why.

Chocoholics are beginning to understand the secret behind the amorous inclination we have for these brown and white treats. Two doctors, Donald Klein and Michael Leibowitz, made a theory suggesting that chocolate contains a particular chemical called phenylethylamine (better known as the "love chemical"), which is also present in the brain.

Phenylethylamine, is an amphetamine-like substance, and the chemical produced in the brain of people who are evidently in the state of love. Love struck persons produce more of this chemical than people who are not. Initially, Dr. Klein and Dr. Leibowitz joked about the idea of chocolate being an arbiter for people who are in love. They then tried to prove their theory but were unable to finish their experiments. Later, however, other scientists followed suit but were also unsuccessful to find out if chocolate really had any love-potion abilities. One study revealed that intake of chocolate did not actually increase the level of phenylethylamine in the body, thus ruling out chocolate as responsible for that certain wonderful high.

By nature, however, phenylethylamine is a naturally-occuring trace chemical known to release a certain kind of dopamine in the "pleasure-centers" of the brain. Unfortunately, one of the metabolites phenylethylamine produces also causes a person to become unusually restive. Overproduction of this chemical is found in people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Moreover, further studies showed that chocolate was mildly addictive, due mainly to its caffeine content. It also contains small quantities of the chemical anandamide, and endogenous cannabinoid found also in the brain. Aside from these chemicals, chocolate also has a substantial amount of tryptophan, an important amino acid that controls the production of the mood-modulating serotonin.

Probably the most distinctive "side-effect" of eating chocolate is that it releases endorphines, the body's own endogenous opiates. The production of endorphins consequently give chocolate addicts that co-called "inner glow" about them (which explains why many chocolate lovers seem to be so gloriously alive).

To top it all, however, science has yet to prove chocolate's efficacy as an aphrodisiac. While some doctors say that phenylethylamine in chocolate is just a mild love-chemical, the debate is still ongoing and it is still too early to know if chocolate really is the lovers' delight. Then again, maybe giving your special someone a box of chocolates wouldn't hurt a bit, maybe even beneficial. It's worth a try.

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