Chocolate: Food of Gods and Lovers
Silky, smooth, and seductive. The taste of good chocolate caresses the tongue and enchants the taste buds; it’s no wonder that chocolate and sex are such tantalizing partners. Considered by many to be one of the undisputed queens of aphrodisiacs, chocolate is known as “the food of the gods” and has long been used to stoke the flames of passion. Legend has it that both the Italian lover Casanova and the Aztec King Montezuma consumed liquid chocolate to enhance their libidos.
Chocolate lovers can thank the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations for discovering the “magic” of cocoa beans thousands of years ago. By AD 600, the Mayans established the first known cocoa plantations. The cocoa bean was such a valuable commodity, the Mayans used it as currency. This ancient civilization considered the passion- plant to have a cerebral value as well and believed it would bring wisdom and knowledge to those who consumed it.
Indulgence is good for you.
The Ayurvedic approach to nutrition, as in all areas of Ayurveda, is about balance—not deprivation. Healthy desserts bring joy and delight. You can eat small portions of high-quality desserts to satisfy your desire for sweets without overindulging. Depriving yourself of the basic foods you love may cause more harm than the few extra calories you consume.
Ayurveda puts forth that the six tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, astringent, sour, and pungent) should be consumed each day. If you sample foods that correspond to each of these tastes throughout the day, your meals will provide a wide assortment of health-promoting nutrients. Including dessert is a delicious way of incorporating the sweet taste into each meal. Ayurveda holds that an occasional indulgence is good for the body, mind, and soul. Just be sure to maintain balance: If you desire a decadent dessert, begin with a lighter meal.
Keep in mind that in baking, as in all cooking, the final dish can only be as delicious and wholesome as the ingredients from which it is made. Always favor fresh, organic products. Using organic whole-wheat pastry flour, for example, gives you the nutritional benefits of whole wheat without the coarse texture of regular whole-wheat flour, and you will find it works well in most baking applications.
To reduce fat and cholesterol, our luscious recipe for Unbelievable Double Chocolate Cake, right, uses silken tofu instead of eggs and calls for applesauce to replace part of the fat content, adding mouth-watering moistness to the cake. If you choose to use nondairy chocolate chips, this becomes a perfect dessert for vegans.
The Science of Chocolate
If chocolate makes you feel good, recent research may explain why.
1. Adding scientific clout to the idea of chocolate as a potential aphrodisiac, studies show that chocolate contains phenylethyalanine, a stimulant similar to the body’s own dopamine and adrenaline. Phenylethyalanine acts on the brain’s mood centers and may induce a similar “feel good” feeling to the one we have during the initial stages of falling in love.
2. Chocolate induces the release of additional endorphins by the brain—thereby elevating mood and reducing perception of pain. Recent research has discovered that chocolate also contains anandamide, which may mimic the effects of marijuana by acting on the same brain receptors, resulting in a mild high.
3. As an additional enticement, chocolate, (the dark variety in particular) contains antioxidants called catechins and polyphenols—the same antioxidants that are found in red wine and green tea. Antioxidants block the free radicals that interfere with normal cell reproduction and may also help reduce high blood pressure and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often called “bad cholesterol.” Initial research in this area indicates that chocolate, when eaten in moderation as a part of a balanced diet, could have a role to play in maintaining cardiovascular health.