Chemistry of Dark Chocolate


Chocolate makes people happy because it tastes good and provides a moment’s respite from busy, and often stressed-out, lives. For some, chocolate is a guilty pleasure, and we are firm believers in the old adage that forbidden fruit is always the most satisfying. Just seeing chocolate, or inhaling its wonderful aroma, has quickened the beat of many chocolate-lover’s heart.

Cacao, the key component of chocolate, comes from beans that grow in pods on Theobroma cacao, better known as the cacao tree. The tree is native to the tropical regions of South and Central America, but it is also cultivated in West Africa and Southeast Asia.

We can thank the Aztecs and their contemporaries in Mexico and Central America for discovering the cacao tree’s delights. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought cacao pods back to Europe and beyond.

Mesoamericans have been making beverages from components of the cacao tree. They also used other parts of cacao trees to make chicha, a type of beer, and other non-chocolate cacao drinks.

By 600 C.E., Mesoamericans were refining cacao beans into unsweetened chocolate drinks and using the concoction in religious rituals and social ceremonies connected with births and deaths. Cacao beans were even used as a form of currency, money you could eat.

What is it that makes chocolate so addictive?

Chocolate contains more than 300 – 500 known chemicals, some of which react within the human brain to alter mood. One of the reasons chocolate is unique is the temperature at which it melts between 94 °F (34.4 °C) and 97 °F (36.1 °C).

At the same time the temperature of the human body is about 98.6 °F (37 °C), which is just above the chocolate’s melting temperature, so chocolate slides across your tongue and liquefies into a perfect puddle of taste sensation.

There are many types of chemicals present in chocolate such as:

  • Anandamide that produces a transient feeling of well-being;

  • Fats and Sugars that control blood cholesterol and produce energy;

  • Serotonin that is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate our mood. It also promotes feelings of well-being and elation.

But what makes chocolate so addictive to us is Phenylethylamine, a natural stimulant found in the brain that stimulates the production of endorphins. These are your feel-good hormones that are responsible for your feelings of pleasure. Since chocolate contains a certain level of Phenylethylamine, people often believe that eating chocolate helps to stimulate these hormones, resulting in an aphrodisiac effect on the brain.

So, can chocolate make us happy?

While the small amounts of each individual chemical in chocolate may not have profound effects on the brain, the combination of them all packaged together is a winning combination to produce happy feelings in the eater.

Another reason to love chocolate

Scientists have confirmed that dark chocolate is beneficial for our health. The greater cocoa content provides high concentrations of antioxidants called flavonoids, which reportedly prevent cancers, protect blood vessels, promote cardiac health, and counteract high blood pressure.

For more information on nutrition join our Understanding Healthy Living course.

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