Chocolate is delicious to eat, but has served many other purposes over the years
Many cannot resist chocolate, that beloved creamy, sweet confection derived from cocoa beans, milk and sugar. All over the world people love to indulge in chocolate, especially come Valentine’s Day. According to data from Leatherhead Food Research, Switzerland consumes more chocolate per capita than any country in the world. Ireland, the United Kingdom, Austria and Belgium round out the top five.
Despite its apparent popularity in Europe, chocolate was first popularized in Mexico where cocoa beans were used more than 3,500 years ago. It wasn’t until the last 200 years that chocolate turned became the sweet treat we know and love today. Aztecs believed cocoa had aphrodisiac properties, and chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine, which is released naturally in the body when a person falls in love. The aroma of chocolate can induce relaxation, and chocolate also contains dopamine, a natural painkiller.
While chocolate is now used primarily as a food, over the years it had many other uses. Here are some of the many ways people have used chocolate throughout history.
- Money: The Mayans used cocoa beans as a form of currency, as did the Aztecs. In this instance, money actually did grow on trees.
- Dental health: Arman Sadeghpour, a researcher at Tulane University, says an extract of cocoa powder could be an effective alternative to using fluoride. Chocolate-enhanced toothpaste may be the next big thing.
- Fuel: Chocolate has been used to feed bacteria that produce hydrogen, which can be used as a clean power source.
- Medicine: Chocolate is full of antioxidants, which provide disease-fighting benefits in the body. Dark chocolate provides the greatest number of health benefits, as it contains flavonols, which stimulate the brain and support the circulatory system.
- Fashion: Designers and chocolatiers worldwide collaborate to make sweet outfits at Le Salon du Chocolat’s fashion shows.
- Special effects: Before computer-simulated special effects, moviemakers employed other methods to produce realistic results. Legend has it that Bosco chocolate syrup was used as blood in the famed shower scene in the movie “Psycho.” Bosco was used because it showed up great in black and white.
- Skin care: Cocoa butter, a component of chocolate, was long used to moisturize and soothe dry skin. Many spas now incorporate organic chocolate into their healing and beauty therapies.
- Perfume: Chocolate produces more than 400 distinct smells and has been used to make perfume more fragrant.
- Mood enhancement: Chocolate may help to improve mood, as it is a mild stimulant and can affect serotonin levels, which govern feel-good feelings, in the brain.
- Postage: In 2013, Belgium’s post office sold limited-edition stamps that were varnished with 40 percent of a cocoa product. They smelled and tasted like chocolate.
Chocolate has been tempting taste buds for thousands of years. It’s also been used in some very unique ways, even if, come Valentine’s Day, the majority of people would be content just to eat it. TF152929
The Village Sweet Shoppe, 1 Buffalo Street, Hamburg NY, 697-0048, www.villagesweetshoppeandgifts.com.