Chocolate comes from the Aztec word xocalatwhich means “bitter water” and, as we all know, is extracted from the seeds of the tree Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree, a name that comes from the Greek “food of the gods”. Let’s remember that There are three main varieties: the most common is Forastero, which accounts for almost 90% of the world’s cocoa production.
The rarest and therefore the most appreciated (always the rarest is the tastiest), is the Criollo variety and the one that remains, Trinitario, is a cross of the two previous ones. The Aztecs considered the cocoa tree a source of strength and health. and they appointed the god Quetzalcoatl as their tutor. It was usually served as a sparkling liquid mixed with cinnamon and cornmeal. It was in Europe that we added vanilla and sugar: we had to make it sweeter so that it would please our palate.
On average, chocolate contains 8% protein, 60% carbohydrates and 30% fat, a figure that is at the limit of what is recommended for health. A 100 gram tablet provides 520 calories and contains essential elements such as potassium, calcium, iron, copper and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B and E. But what is striking is that It contains more than 300 chemical substances and for the most part it is not known how they act on the organism.
But we do know some things. In addition to the pleasure of dipping churros in it, it also provides a feeling of “well-being” in our brain thanks to phenylethylamine, which is related to amphetamines. As such, it’s a stimulant – not as intense as popular speeds – that works on certain neurotransmitters in the parts of the brain that control our ability to be attentive and alert.
Only there are approximately 700 mg of phenylethylamine in a 100 g tablet, something like 0.7%, although most chocolates contain considerably less: around 50 to 100 mg. Phenylethylamine, which looks oily and smells fishy when pure, raises blood sugar and blood pressure and can increase the release of dopamine, which has a euphoric effect on the brain.
However, not all researchers believe that this feel-good effect is responsible – in whole or in part – for phenylethylamine. Scientists at the San Diego Neuroscience Institute in California believe that chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances whose effect is the same as that of marijuana and that they may be responsible for a certain type of drug-induced psychosis that has historically been associated with chocolate consumption.
Brain cells have a receptor for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) from marijuana. In other words, THC, like other mind-altering substances, can be imagined as a key in search of a lock in nerve cells. If it finds it, it attaches itself to the cell membrane and causes reactions inside it that induce pleasant and stimulating sensations. THC does not appear in chocolate but another substance, anandamide, which acts on the same structures as THC.
Interestingly, anandamide – whose name comes from the Sanskrit word ananda, inner happiness – is produced naturally in the brain but is quickly destroyed. For chocolate to have an impact on the normal levels of this molecule in our body, we would have to eat several pounds of it. What’s happening, and what scientists at the Neuroscience Institute have discovered, is that chocolate contains other substances that slow down this destruction, allowing it to cause this tricky effect of feeling good while we eat. our portion of cocoa.
The chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid which, moreover, the brain uses to generate serotonin, which at high levels produces euphoria and even ecstasy. And as if that weren’t enough, in the ever-appealing tablets is theobromine, which works in the same way as caffeine or theine but on a much smaller scale. It is a mild diuretic, stimulant and muscle relaxant. Now, while for us that’s not a problem, it’s for dogs, horses, and other pets, because they metabolize theobromine much more slowly, which affects the kidneys, heart, and nervous system.
The first to discover the exciting effects of chocolate were the Mayans, and it was a drink reserved for the elite of society. When the Spaniards arrived in America at the end of the 15th century, the Aztecs were the dominant civilization and part of their economy was based on the cocoa bean: the conquered peoples paid their tribute with this currency.
Aztec nobles saw it as a powerful aphrodisiac, and very mischievous they forbade their wives to drink it. When cocoa arrived in Europe, chocolate’s reputation as a sexual appetite stimulant came with it. How could it be otherwise, this reputation has grown over time.
It was drunk with such delight by both sexes that in 1624 a writer, Joan Roach, devoted an entire book to condemning it, referring to it in a very puritanical tone as “a violent one inflamed with passions”. In the 18th century, the great lover Casanova proclaimed to the four winds that chocolate was his favorite drink. But Casanova was not a chemist, and although he was a great lover, his sexual prowess had nothing to do with this dark pleasure: chocolate is not an aphrodisiac.
Character font: Miguel Ángel Sabadell / Very interesting
Reference article: https://www.muyinteresante.es/ciencia/articulo/por-que-nos-hace-sentir-bien-comer-chocolate-321645029935