Chocolate’s a wonder. Recently elevated to superfood status, the world’s favorite luxury foodstuff (making up half the candy sold in the U.S.) is so complicated and versatile that we’ve barely scratched its surface. It’s a dessert? Tell that to anyone who puts dark chocolate in their chili. It’s unhealthy? In moderation, it’s good for your heart, your skin and your brain. If you think you know chocolate’s role in the world, here are 15 facts that might surprise you.
As Hard Cash. Once, money grew on trees in the form of cocoa beans. The Mayans (who are thought to have first discovered chocolate) used cocoa beans as a form of currency. The Aztecs did the same, even levying taxes in precious cacao…and of course producing the famous and no doubt expensive drink Xocolatl.
As Body Paint. Now, obviously you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, not the merest clue. But there are people (other people, we’re talking about) who spread chocolate in all sorts of places in order to have all sorts of fun. Not that we’d know.
Swirled into Cheese. It’s old news that putting something sweet in cheese (cranberries, for example) lifts the flavor through the roof. But chocolate is too sweet, surely? British supermarket chain Tesco didn’t think so, rolling out the chocolate whirl (59% white Stilton, 11% Belgian chocolate) in 2007. The Michigan State University’s chocolate cheese confection goes for a more fudgy, cheesecakey consistency.
Wrapping Bacon. I have to wonder how this dish originated, the same way I wonder how Cambodians discovered tarantulas are edible. No matter what it tastes like, the concept ranks alongside the Scottish deep-fried Mars Bar as a first-degree crime against food.
Fighting Tooth Decay. Say what? No, it’s true. An extract of cocoa has recently been found to be more effective than fluoride in keeping your teeth healthy.
Unsuccessfully Cornering Escaped Hamsters. For 9 days, Fudgie the Hamster evaded Scottish firefighters equipped with a sophisticated array of hamster-luring equipment included a tiny camera drizzled in chocolate – and the scrappy rebel was only captured when hunger drove him back out into the open. Even chocolate has its limits.
Keeping Your Ticker Healthy. Pick the dark chocolate and you have a dietary supplement that will improve your coronary circulation.
Keeping Your Skin Happy. Cocoa butter is marvelous stuff – rich, smooth and with an aroma that will have everyone fighting to get near you. And since it’s chocolate, it’s technically edible – the way all skincare products should be.
Stop Your Tension Going Hyper. A study from the University Hospital of Cologne found a link between polyphenol-rich (dark) chocolate and lowered blood pressure. A heavenly reason to eat chocolate when you’re stressed – as long as it’s the right kind, of course.
Feeding Your Car (or Airship)? Escherichia coli bacteria have a sweet tooth – and when they gorge on surplus chocolate, they produce hydrogen that can be used as a clean source of power. Speculating wildly, could waste chocolate power the zero-emissions vehicle of tomorrow?
Making You Smarter. Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols that improve the circulation of blood around your body, including the brain – fighting mental fatigue, making you more alert and generally making you a more efficient thinker. For this reason, chocolate is one of the smartest foods we know.
As Spa Treatments. Chocolate contains antioxidants (the less processed the better) so used correctly, it’s good for the skin. Hershey – recent newcomer to the organic market – has a hotel where you can indulge in cocoa-rich treatments ranging from chocolate milk baths and a cocoa bean polish to the hour-long chocolate fondue wrap. Can you imagine a chocolate high?
As Perfume. Rather obvious when you think about it. Chocolate is one of those smells, like coffee and fresh-baked bread, that seems to weakens everyone’s knees even if they don’t like the product itself. However, this perfume claims the aroma is a male aphrodisiac that makes you thin. Riiight.
Lifting Your Mood. Reaching for the chocolate when you’re feeling glum has become a cultural cliché, and since eating chocolate appears to have similar physiological effects to kissing, it’s not hard to see why. (Dean Ornich, M.D. describes the sensation for Newsweek). Since it improves the circulation, is a mild stimulant and makes you euphoric, chocolate seems perfectly suited to lift you out the doldrums…but not everyone agrees.
Not Feeding Your Pets. Here’s why dog chocolates were invented. Human chocolate contains theobromine – harmless to us but highly toxic to our four-legged friends. So ignore even the most imploring look…in case your kindness kills.
Useful links: Chocolate World; CocoaJava
Images: miss karen, cstrom, uncommon scents, profumo, Dennis Wong; MSN; dotbenjamin; bingbing