Ode to Chocolate

I was reading a food reference book just the other day to see if I could find any proof that chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Next to me sat a bag of chocolate chips from which I was popping an occasional single chip for inspiration. I came across this line about chocolate that said, "The Aztec ruler, Montezuma, so believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, that he purportedly drank 50 golden goblets of it each day." (Food Lover’s Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst )

So I thought, “If it was that much of an aphrodisiac, why did he need to drink that much of it? Did people have sexual addictions back then? And if it was an effective aphrodisiac, when did he have time to run the country and build all those pyramids?”  But it does explain why the Spaniards came and took over. Montezuma was probably just busy (very busy) and not thinking straight when they arrived. So the next thing you know, the Spaniards are taking gold, chilis and chocolate back home, and there are all these Don Juan and Casanova stories in the tabloids.

The other little known fact I discovered is that the Aztecs didn't sweeten their cocoa, which is why chocolate means "bitter water.”  All I can say is bless the first person who figured out to mix in a little honey or syrup. She ought to get a Nobel Prize. Just think how much happier old Montie would have been lounging in his jammies by the fire, sipping sweetened hot cocoa with a dollop of whipped cream on top?  Now there's something to inspire a little passion.

So now we know the beginnings of this chocolate/love association.  Let’s look at the science.
“Eating chocolate also releases Phenylethylamine and Seratonin into the system producing... euphoric effects, plus it can give a substantial energy boost thus increasing stamina (at the critical moment?), so it's probably these effects which gave rise to chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac.
So there you have it, calling chocolate an aphrodisiac is probably stretching it a bit, but eating chocolate does make you feel good and can actually induce or 'mimic' the feelings of being in love...” Janet Vine of Aphrodite Chocolates

This is starting to sound pretty good. Chocolate makes you feel like you are in love. Why not share some with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? All this chocolate talk is making my mouth water and forgive me but I must tell you about my favorite chocolates.  It is a problem with foodies such as myself. You are enjoying a wonderful meal in a great restaurant with friends and everyone starts talking about other great meals that might even top your current experience. In the world of foodies, this is a version of dining as a competitive sport. The other version involves making the kind of lists that you will find below.

Personally, my favorite kind of chocolate is of the dark, bittersweet variety.   I crave the dance of those flavors melting across my tongue in just the right balance. I always look for labels that indicate that the chocolate treasure contains at least 67- 75% cacao. Lately I have been fortunate to try a few artisanal chocolates with the hint of chili, salt or ginger. Maybe bittersweet, that blending of opposites, is the real reason we think of chocolate on Valentine's Day.  Love relationships can be bittersweet, especially the long and good ones, the ones that are truly passionate. And new love, full of magic and promise can in the next moment teeter on the brink of becoming too "saccharine" or blowing up or melting down or drowning in bitter tears.

Here are a few of my favorite chocolate indulgences:

Chilmark Chocolates- forget trying to buy them unless you go to Martha’s Vineyard during the season and then only Thursday through Saturday. This place runs entirely on love- of chocolate and the people whose lives are enhanced by the opportunity to have gainful employment in spite of disabilities. Squibnuggets, Tashmoo Truffles, Chocolate covered island Blueberries, oh my..

State Road Chocolates in Martha’s Vineyard. A newcomer on the scene, this wonderful local restaurant offers a variety of oversized bars named for the towns on the island.

Richart Chocolates in New York. Here each chocolate and each  collection are a true visual and culinary art. Think chocolate flavored with lavender.

Mast Brother’s Chocolate in Brooklyn - especially their bars with a hint of salt. They may becomes the new Chez Goldstein “house" chocolate  to be found anytime in my pantry of "must have" staples or stashed in my travel bag for emergencies.

Proof of the Pudding’s Chocolate Brownies- the perfect balance of cake and fudge, walnuts and vanilla, medium rare. We must have sold a million of them back in the day when I was actually paid to play with my food. Adapted from an old family recipe “Aunt Nora’s Brownies”. Watch for the recipe to be posted here soon.

Scratch Bakery's Rustic Chocolate Tart in Durham, NC.....sigh.

I still don't know if chocolate is really an aphrodisiac. But I know this for sure.  I could never be really close to someone who didn't like chocolate.  And the more chocolate I eat, the more I love chocolate.

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