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Monday, February 9, 2015

Chocolate and the libido; Is chocolate the food of love?

         An interesting aspect of chocolate history is the lore associated with chocolate as an aphrodisiac or libido enhancer. Stories are still around about Montezuma, the Aztec emperor of 13th century Mexico, who is said to have drunk 50 cups of chocolate every day from a golden goblet. 

       Since Montezuma had a harem of 600 wives, he possibly felt some pressure to enhance his sexual prowess. Women, of course, were not permitted to drink chocolate. Chocolate was considered a royal aphrodiasic and only the gods and rulers were supposed to drink it. 

     Montezuma's chocolate drink was a combination of ground cocoa beans, hot peppers and ground vanilla beans. The European explorers who tried it were not impressed. 
An explanation for the reputation of Montezuma's chocolate is that chilies, curries and other spicy foods have physiological effects--raised heart and blood pressure rates--similar to the physical reactions of sex. Perhaps the hot peppers helped Montezuma believe he was sexually enhanced. Centuries later, Spanish Queen Isabella's cook substituted sugar for the hot peppers. The new sweet drink instantly became the rage. 

Casanova, the famous Italian lover, thought chocolate aided his libido. He preferred drinking chocolate to champagne before going out on his nightly adventures. In his memoirs, he writes of drinking chocolate for breakfast. 

       Chocolate has become associated with Valentine's Day as the favorite gift of love. According to the Chocolate Manufacturer's Association, 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate were sold for Valentine's Day. It was Richard Cadbury, son of the founder of Cadbury Ltd, who created the heart-shaped candy box for Valentine's Day in 1861. 

      Stories of chocolate as an aphrodisiac are interesting, but is there any scientific evidence that chocolate enhances the libido? Much has been written on the subject. Research proposes that the neurotransmitter in falling in love may be phenylethylamine (PEA), which is found in chocolate. It can heighten senses, raise blood pressure and sugar levels and give a feeling of well being. Chocolate also contains substances that stimulate the brain in ways similar to marijuana and coffee. Chocolate contains theobromine, a mild stimulant and phenlethylamine, a euphoric. 
      On the other side of the question, Randy Cornelius in his book The Science of Emotion writes, "The true aphrodisiacs are our beliefs about certain things. If you believe chocolate is a food of love and romance, that belief sparks the romantic flames when it is given as a gift." Perhaps the aphrodisiac properties proclaimed all these years have only been in our heads?

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