DARK DESIRES

By on May 1, 2010 in Food, History

Long Love Affair

The relationship humans have with sweets is one of history’s greatest love affairs. Confectionaries have been around for at least 4,000 years, dating back to ancient Egyptians. A plethora of sugary delicacies were sold in their marketplaces.

However, the Egyptians lacked knowledge of or access to what would undoubtedly become the world’s favorite sweet treat – chocolate. It was the Mayan and Aztec cultures that first discovered the flavor and value of the cocoa plant around 600 A.D. Migrating into South America, they established cocoa plantations along the Yucatan Peninsula. They typically used the beans to make a flavorful drink called xocoatl. They also considered the beans to have monetary value and traded them for goods and services.

But the real power of chocolate for Mayans and Aztecs went far beyond either flavor or monetary value. To them, chocolate was considered a divine food.

Food of the Gods

There’s an old Aztec Indian legend that states that chocolate was consumed by the gods in heaven and gifted to man as a special blessing. It was the god Quetzalcoatl who made the journey to earth and brought with him the cocoa tree.

Eating cocoa beans, or drinking special drinks made from them, was thought to give one knowledge, wisdom and power. The Aztec emperor Montezuma is known to have drunk cocoa flavored with vanilla and spices on a regular basis. Chocolate was so important to Mayans and Aztecs that they performed special human sacrifices to the gods in hopes of preserving their good fortune and supply of cocoa. They would actually feed their sacrifice victim chocolate before dispensing with their life.

While the Aztecs and Mayans had a monopoly on chocolate for a long period of time, the introduction of chocolate to the rest of the world has been attributed to the efforts of Spanish explorers visiting the Americas. Fernando Cortez first discovered it while visiting the court of Montezuma in Mexico. He was so delighted by its pleasant taste that he brought some back to the royal court of King Charles. Monks then took the beans and processed them in new ways in the monasteries, essentially inventing what we know today as chocolate bars. They also planted cocoa trees. Though they kept their discovery hidden for nearly a century, eventually an Italian traveler found out about it and began to spread the word, and the chocolate, to the rest of Europe.

Today, chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry that has its roots planted in many different countries all over the world. However, 70 percent of cocoa used to make chocolate comes from West Africa. And not all of it is produced under the most humane conditions.

Hard Labor

In places like West Africa, chocolate is big business. And big business requires a significant number of workers. In the West African country of Ivory Coast, it is estimated that more than 600,000 children work in cocoa fields.

Many of these children work in truly appalling conditions. Most are young boys between the age of 12 and 16 who have been sold into this life and forced to work on the farms and harvest beans. Many of the boys come from Mali, where opportunistic traders prey on children who appear to be alone or hungry. They are able to lure the children to Ivory Coast where they are then sold off to the farms. The children often work day and night with little rest and minimal food. Some are abused and most live in total fear. The cocoa they pick is shipped all over the world and used in products that millions of unassuming consumers buy. Knowing that the pleasure we derive from chocolate very well could be at the expense of child slaves is very disturbing. While UNICEF and other organizations have made efforts to put an end to this modern-day slavery, it is still an unresolved issue.

These days, it is often possible to know if the chocolate you are buying and eating is tainted by slavery. Many chocolate bars and products, especially those found at higher end stores, promote and guarantee the fact that they do not source their chocolate from farms that use slave labor.

Tasty Arousal

The phrase “chocolate is better than sex” is one that has been uttered often times. But is it possible that chocolate actually improves sex?

One of the early indications that chocolate had possible aphrodisiacal effects occurred when disciples of Montezuma discovered him pouring a chocolate drink into his goblet before entering his harem. He would sometimes stay with the women for many hours at a time, making his disciples wonder if the chocolate was what gave him his super power. Modern research has suggested that chocolate, at the least, does have an effect on sexual arousal. A recent study by a hospital in Milan, Italy, found that women who eat chocolate on a regular basis also report a significantly higher degree of sexual satisfaction. For women who had a lower libido and did not regularly eat chocolate, when they were given chocolate their libido increased.

Chocolate contains serotonin and phenylethylamine, both hormones that have the ability to lift mood. The brain produces them naturally, but when we eat chocolate we’re getting a bigger dose resulting in a good feeling all over.

Enjoy Life

Humans have been enjoying chocolate for thousands of years. It is a food that is synonymous with pleasure, and nowadays it has even been touted for its numerous health benefits. Dark chocolate is known to contain antioxidants that protect the body from aging caused by free radicals. It also contains flavanoids that help to regulate blood pressure. Take those facts into consideration with its aphrodisiacal properties and there is little reason not to partake in the pleasures of one of nature’s greatest treats.

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