The sweet taste of love

Dave Schwab

Thu January 26, 2017 5:32pm

Chocolate is practically synonymous with Valentine’s Day. So how — and why — is that, and how did it come about?
Actually, the truth is the cacao tree, with its beans from which chocolate is derived, originated in Central America and parts of Mexico.
Unknown in Europe until explorers from the New World brought it back, chocolate goes all the way back to the Mayan civilization.
Mayans made fermented beverages from chocolate as early as 1900 B.C. Mayans and Aztecs blended cacao seeds with various seasonings to make a spicy drink enjoyed mostly by royalty.
Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes may have been the first European to encounter chocolate, when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in 1519.
The Aztecs believed the cacao bean was the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. The seeds became so valuable, they were even used as currency.
Concerning how chocolate and Valentine’s Day became romantically entangled, is another tale.
The discovery of chocolate and its delectable properties ultimately led to a craze for it in Europe helping create a thriving slave market, as between the early 17th and late 19th centuries, the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. New processes that sped the production of chocolate emerged early in the Industrial Revolution.
By the 1800s, the Cadbury Brothers had set up shop in England making and selling chocolate to average citizens. In 1861, Richard Cadbury created the first ever heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day. Thus began the common link between chocolate and Valentine’s Day.
But is there any evidence to support the notion that chocolate and love complement one another?
The ancient Aztecs strongly believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac. But that conviction, unlike rhino horn, may ultimately prove not to be as crazy as it seems.
According to scientific studies, chocolate consumption may cause your brain to release the pleasure chemical dopamine, which could put people in the mood for love.
Though chocolate is known for its ability to increase levels of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin, it also contains small amounts of a compound called phenylethylamine. Phenylethylamine acts like an amphetamine, stimulating your brain cells to release dopamine.
Phenylethylamine works by combining with dopamine, resulting in a mild antidepressant effect. When you eat chocolate, your limbic system — the part of your brain that controls emotions — responds to the phenylathylamine in the chocolate by promoting blissful emotions. That’s the theory at least.
One of the highest-profile purveyors of boxed chocolates for Valentine’s Day is See’s Candies headquartered in San Francisco.
See’s has more than 100 varieties of gourmet chocolate and candies it sells at two South Bay outlets: one in the Chula Vista Shopping Center at 555 Broadway, and the other in Otay Ranch Town Center at 2015 Birch Road.
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