“Death by Chocolate” really did happen in Chiapas, Mexico in the 1600s, when so-called upper class Spaniards would not stop eating chocolate during church services, prompting a Bishop to issue a ban against it. The bishop was later found dead from poison put in his daily chocolate drink.
Montezuma really loved his goblets of hot “chocolatl” (meaning bitter water) with chili peppers. He drank several goblets every day! Legend tells us the great Aztec ruler felt chocolate made him feel more virile, the better to ‘service’ his harem. Chauvinist. But kind of funny!
Studies show that when men crave food, they go for salt or fat, but women crave, they splurge on chocolate. I can personally attest to that—I'll take a Lindt chocolate truffle, please!
Of course chocolate took off in Europe after Cortez brought some cocoa beans back to Spain and added sugar cane. It became very popular with Spanish aristocracy so they planted them and began their own industry. They kept this profitable industry a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly a century. Once the reputation of this delicious “food of the Gods” spread in the rest of Europe, the Swiss developed many versions of flavoring and processing, making them the master producers they are today. The United States, however, does produce the most chocolate and consume the most pounds of it per year, but the Swiss eat more per capita.
So, how can it be good for you? Chocolate contains high amounts of serotonin and phenylethamine, both can raise mood levels, plus theobromine an agent to help heart, skin and brain. Dark chocolate even contains flavonoids which improve circulation. It even has more antioxidents than red wine and some nuts.
A short history of chocolate through the ages:
2000 BC— The cocoa plant was believed to originate in South and/or Central America.
300— Evidence of use by the Maya
600— Mayan use in ceremonies and language. Cocoa begins to move north.
1200— Aztecs added spices, chili pepper, even cornmeal for flavor (they did not have sugar yet). Cocoa beans were used as currency at this time.
1528— Chocolatl was taken to Spain by Cortez. There it was mixed with sugar, vanilla, cloves, allspice and cinnamon.
1600— Europeans indulged a chocolate craze, and it was reputed to be an aphrodisiac.
1677— Cocoa plantations became important for global markets. Brazil became a major supplier.
1765— The first chocolate factory in the United States was located in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
1770— The first chocolate mill in the United States was founded in Norwich, Connecticut.
Dale Carson (Abenaki) is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking, and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for over 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut. Her birthday falls the day before Valentine's Day, so she deserves extra chocolate.