With each holiday season comes an epidemic. I am not speaking of another alien
flu bug, but rather the epidemic of chocolatitis.
It is an addictive disease that becomes more prevalent
during the holiday season when chocolate candy
becomes that ever-present seasonal gift in homes
Chocolate, derived from the seeds of the cocoa
tree, was first discovered by the Aztecs, who
believed it was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl.
Montezuma was reported to have consumed up to
fifty cups of chocolate daily. And when the conquistador,
Cortes, brought this New World discovery back
to Spain, it soon became the rage of 17th-century
Europe. It was believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.
There were many great scientists and scientific
advances of the 19th-century. But one of the greatest
discoveries of that era, one that has developed
into a multi-billion dollar industry and has brought
great pleasure to millions, was made by an obscure
Swiss chemist, Henri Nestle. He combined chocolate
with sweetened condensed milk, creating "milk
chocolate." And hence came the Hershey Bar,
the Baby Ruth, Milk Duds, Tootsie Rolls, M &
M's, and my wife, Margaret's, favorite, Junior
Chocolate has evolved over the centuries, from
Montezuma's aphrodisiac to a 17th-century delicacy,
from an energy booster in the ration kits of servicemen
since World War I to today's common gift between
friends and lovers.
There have been several theories about the allure
of chocolate. One study has suggested that the
craving for it comes from a chemical in chocolate
called phenylethylamine which is known to cause
euphoric states that some say resemble the feeling
of falling in love. That theory has been dismissed
since cheddar cheese and smoked salami have been
discovered to have more phenylethylamine in them
than chocolate and nobody thinks of salami and
cheese as being romantic.
Americans consume about 11.2 pounds of chocolate
per person each year. That's nearly three billion
pounds of chocolate. And though chemists have
long tried to mix up an assortment of complex
chemicals and artificial flavorings to produce
an effective fake chocolate, they have all failed.
Only real chocolate has that mouth watering bouquet,
that romantic overtone, that greedy appeal.
My mother-in-law suffers from a particular strain
of that chocolate lover's disease - "See's
chocolatitis." She's been known to horde
her "nuts and chews", selfishly keeping
them from the rest of her family, particularly
her son-in-law. I'm still working on her cure.
"It warms you; ... then kindles a mortal
fever in you," wrote a 17th century French
writer, the Marquise de Sevigne. She was not describing
a life-threatening disease. She was talking of
romance and of the passion of chocolate.