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Thursday, November 29, 2007

CHOCOLATE FANTASIES

I was amazed when archaeologists found 4,000 year old ceremonial Mayan pottery in Honduras. Now, archaeologists and pottery go together like cocaine and addiction, but this fancy pottery had the remains of chocolate in it, and it was carbon 14 dated at about 1100 B.C., about 500 years earlier than conventional wisdom said that cacao plants were harvested by humans. It seems it was served at weddings and births, in much the same way we today use champagne Once again we have proof that if it’s addictive, humans will find it and even invent any chemistry required to gain access to it. It’s beginning to seem that it was our addiction to addiction that led us off the Savanna and into the crack house.
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Making chocolate is much more complicated than just stomping on grapes. You begin by harvesting the enormous seed pod, which you toss in a pile to let ferment for about a week. The first Mayans to do this threw the seeds away and brewed the meaty pods into a powerful beer. But then some Mayan Nerd noticed that the seeds abandoned in the sun smelled delicious. Of course if they didn’t dry fast enough they turned moldy, but if the beans dried quickly, and if the Mayan Nerd then roasted the beans, and then pried opened their shells, he or she would find what are called the nubs. And if this ancient chemistry Wonk then ground up the nubs (like a coffee bean) the Mayan alchemist would end up with a liquid called “chocolate liquor” – for obvious reasons – and when he or she then heated that material and allowed it to cool and solidify, they produced what we call “baking chocolate”, and what the Mayan called cacao. And then, some 4,000 later, some idiot convinced American school children that chemistry was boring. Chemistry gets you beer and chocolate. How could that be boring?
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Here’s some more chemistry. Chocolate contains anandamide, which is also found in marijuana, and a couple of chemicals that slow down your metabolism of anadamide; in other words they make the “high” last longer. Chocolate also contains tryptophan, which is the stuff in turkey that puts you to sleep after Thanksgiving dinner. And chocolate also contains theobromine, which is actually a superior opiate to the watered- downed opiates in over- the-counter cough medicines. Of course chocolate contains really small amounts of all of these compounds and for any or all of them to have a major effect on your brain you would have to eat so much chocolate you would likely die from dysentery. Getting your chemistry from the chocolate companies is as silly as getting your sexual counsel from the people who make Viagra.
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Chocolate also contains magnesium, a chemical that pre-menstrual females are short of. This is the usual justification given for women’s monthly chocolate cravings, but only 40% of women claim monthly chocolate cravings, and so do 15% of men. A more likely influence on chocolate cravings in both sexes might have been located by a British study that reported the very odor of chocolate reduces theta activity in the human brain, indicating calming and relaxation. This may explain why Hershey, Pennsylvania (Derry Township) has less than ¼ of 1% of the national rate of violent crimes. The whole town reeks of chocolate!
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The Spanish Conquistadors reported that the Aztec emperor Montezuma drank a big cup of cocoa before entering his harem. And that reputation was enhanced when Giovanni Casanova recommended the drink as an aphrodisiac. What is surprising is that the Church had no problem with all this chocolate inspired sex, probably because the Popes were amongst the first high and mighty who were seduced by the brown powder. Pius V decreed in 1569 that drinking chocolate did not break lent. The reformation tried to introduce the “sin” factor into chocolate, when, in 1624 a Viennese professor, Johan Rauch, condemned chocolate and called for it to be banned. But by that time the Protestant Dutch had reintroduced the “cocoa butter”, drained from the chocolate liquor during the cocoa stage, to create “Dutch Chocolate”. And after that, even chocolate’s role in masking the poison that killed Pope Clement XIV in 1774 could not shake the church’s addiction to the cocoa bean.
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But the sin of Chocolate has never really been “lust” but “avarice”. The Aztecs collected their taxes in Cocoa beans, as did the Spanish who succeeded them, dividing the world into the “have chocolate” and the “grow chocolate” populations. Like diamonds, chocolate has funded and fueled many wars across Africa and South America. (The Cocoa tree only grows within 20 degrees of the equator.
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Meanwhile the “have chocolates” are rich enough to support empires, like Hershey and Cadbury. These corporate chocolate factories are based on the concept of “chocolate for the common man”, often containing less than 10% cocoa butter, and sometimes closer to 1%. Less cocoa butter not only lowers the cost but raises the melting point, and was the original meaning behind the sales pitch, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand”. It implied quality but also convenience. Today quality seems to matter only in Europe proper, where it is still easy to find “Chocolate” with 60% cocoa butter. In America the mega-mixers have asked permission to eliminate cocoa butter completely and still call the product “chocolate”, which would be like calling sugar cocaine, because you used to sell cocaine and because you package your sugar in little baggies.
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Or, maybe I'm pushing my chocolate analogies just a little too far.
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1 comment:

  1. lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this

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