Chocolate: More Than Just Sweet — Good For You (And Your Valentine)

Published: February 10, 2019 at 06:00 am


Sweets, especially chocolates, are a traditional way for one to win over the heart of another. (Call it tasty bribery if you wish.) Gifted in the form of a heart and boxed with fancy ribbon, this tactic becomes romantic.

With St Valentine’s Day less than a week away, there will be a lot of hearts, lollipops, bonbons, and other treats purchased as romance (and the scent of chocolate) fills the air.

There are some interesting facts and myths about this delectable treat.

According to history.com, “During the Revolutionary War, chocolate was provided to the military as rations and sometimes given to soldiers as payment instead of money. (Chocolate was also provided as rations to soldiers during World War II.)”

And you thought chocolate was only for loved ones.

“Chocolate arrived in Florida on a Spanish ship in 1641. It’s thought the first American chocolate house opened in Boston in 1682. By 1773, cocoa beans were a major American colony import, and chocolate was enjoyed by people of all classes,” according to history.com. “It’s unclear exactly when cacao came on the scene or who invented it. According to Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, ancient Olmec pots and vessels from around 1500 BC were discovered with traces of theobromine, a stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea.”

Whether or not chocolate should be considered healthy seems to depend on the type of chocolate, for one.

According to webmd.com, “Chocolate is a food that can be considered healthy in moderation. Some chocolate has more fat, such as milk chocolate or semisweet. Dark chocolate especially is known for its health benefits.”

“Chocolate is actually good for you,” according to Erica Sullivan, owner/chocolatier of Castle Hill Chocolate, 6 Queen Street. “Dark chocolate has been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease by improving blood pressure and blood flow. It is also considered to have more antioxidant activity that any other fruit on the planet. Did I mention that chocolate is actually a fruit?”

History.com agrees: “Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees, which are native to Central and South America. The fruits are called pods, and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.”

From there, the chocolate-making process and detail work can be quite intricate.

“We are very excited about this year’s Valentine’s Day Collection, which will feature beautifully crafted, heart-shaped bonbons filled with yummy new flavor combinations,” Ms Sullivan said. “A few of my favorites this season include a bonbon called The Love Hangover, which is a shimmery gold heart filled with a dark chocolate ganache mingled with champagne and a hint of raspberry; The Lava Cake Bonbon, which is a dark chocolate dome filled with a chocolate ganache with a brownie in the center; and The Frosted Strawberry, which is the perfect blend of dark chocolate and strawberry-flavored ganache shaped into a strawberry and hand-decorated with natural red- and green-colored ivory chocolate and sprinkled with sugar.”

Ms Sullivan notes that the Valentine’s rush typically starts a few weeks in advance before limited-edition items sell out.

“Our peak happens over a two day period, the 13th and 14th, which are also our two busiest days of the year,” said Ms Sullivan, adding that her store’s nonpareil chocolates are popular every year.

Villarina’s Pasta Shop, located at 20 Church Hill Road, carries Bridgewater Chocolate items, including a special-for-Valentine’s Day heart candy which has a marinated cherry in the center. Villarina’s also has truffles, and lollipops shaped like roses, bears, and hearts. There are also decorative chocolate-covered pretzels for those interested in a sweet and savory combination. And in the freezer section are heart-shaped waffles and ravioli.

“The fun thing about this, is it’s not necessarily about the couples. It’s about the family making it a fun holiday,” said Ingrid Schneider, owner of Villarina’s, adding that the ravioli — about 500 boxes worth — almost always sells out, so she put in for a larger order this year.

“The Valentine’s Day fever hasn’t quite kicked in yet,” said Ms Schneider the week of February 4. “I think we’ll start to see it at the end of this week. Of course, depending on what the weather does could be a factor — if we have all of our sales in one day or spread out over the week,” Ms Schneider said.

Chocolate may be tough to put down, but Ms Schneider mentions that care must be taken with the Bridgewater treats.

“Throwing the box in the fridge is not going to make it last longer. It’s actually not good for the chocolates,” said Ms Schneider, adding that chocolates must be kept cool, but not too cold.

Brain Food, Love Food

There are reasons, beyond its taste and possible health benefits, to eat chocolate, according to Ms Sullivan. So if you are still feeling guilty about digging into that truffle, consider that it might be good for the brain.

“Chocolate may improve cognitive function. Yes, chocolate might make you smarter. In fact, there is a correlation between the amount of chocolate a country consumes on average and the number of Nobel Laureates that country has produced,” Ms Sullivan said.

If nothing else, eating chocolate can be enjoyable.

“Throughout history, chocolate was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Although mostly anecdotal, there is some science to back this claim. It turns out that chocolate can give you the same feeling as being madly in love due to a chemical called phenylethylamine, which releases certain pleasure endorphins in the brain. Consuming chocolate has shown to result in an intense mental high and can get the heart pounding more than kissing does,” Ms Sullivan said.

Whether you want to dig into that box of candies for its health benefits or the taste alone, those with allergies need not despair.

“One of our mottos at Castle Hill Chocolate is ‘everyone should be able to enjoy chocolate.’ Whether you have a food allergy, food intolerance, or just a dietary preference, we have a wonderful collection of nut-free, gluten-free, and vegan chocolate that will surely tempt any sweet tooth,” Ms Sullivan said.

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