Chocolate is one of the most popular treats on the market. Most of us love it whether it is dark, milk or white and providing we don’t eat too much of it, a little of what you fancy does you good! In the United Kingdom we eat approximately 11kg of chocolate per year so, why do we love chocolate so much?
First of all, chocolate has a low melting point, it melts at just below 37 degrees centigrade which of course means that it will melt in our mouths. There is nothing like the sensation of allowing a square of chocolate to sit on your tongue and allowing it just to melt. It is all down to the cocoa butter in the chocolate which gives it that familiar rich and creamy consistency. The flavour and texture of the melting chocolate stimulates the taste buds on our tongues which lead to those feelings of pleasure.
Another reason chocolate makes us feel good, is down to the natural chemicals that are found in the cocoa which when consumed, release endorphins and dopamine in our brains. Chocolate also contains caffeine and phenylthalymine which are natural stimulants. These stimulants increase the heart rate, respiration and make you feel more alert. The effects of these stimulants are not usually very pronounced in most people but it does induce a mild high which also leads to the feel good factor. The amount of caffeine is very small so is not the sort of stimuli you might get from an espresso. For some people though, chocolate can give them a migraine and again, this is down to the chemicals in the cocoa with phenylthalymine being one of the main chemicals that can trigger migraine.
Good quality dark chocolate, that which has at least 70% cocoa solids in its ingredients, is actually good for you, it contains flavanoids and antioxidants which can reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Antioxidants are found in foods we traditionally think of as being very good for us such as apples and broccoli. However, this does not mean you can go mad and eat large amounts of it as chocolate does contain significant amounts of fat and sugar, particularly at the cheaper end of the market where there is little in the way of cocoa solids in the bar.
Because chocolate is loved by so many people it is a popular gift for a loved one, with sales peaking on particular holidays like Easter, Valentines and Christmas. It is enjoyed by all ages and as a gift, has the same delightful effect whether you are 8 or 80. For most adults, the pleasure is in the texture and the flavour of the melting chocolate. Chocolates are often flavoured with other things such as fruit, alcohol and nuts which can add to the intensity. Receiving a beautifully wrapped box of good quality chocolates creates a sense of anticipation when you start to open it. You never know what delight is going to present itself to you.