It’s not like we have ever needed an excuse to eat chocolate but this week being National Chocolate Week – well it would be rude not to munch on some.
And before you feel guilty about indulging, chocolate is not all bad, there are health benefits to the cocoa bean. It has flavonoids, an antioxidant which protects the body from aging and can lower blood pressure and chocolate contains tryptophan which appears to stimulate serotonin production so will give you a feeling of well being and may reduce sensitivity to pain. Cacao, the source of chocolate, also contains antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay.
It is believed that the Olmecs were the first known people to use cacao about three to four thousand years ago which grew wild in Central America – followed by other peoples like the Maya and then the Aztecs from the 10th century AD to the 1520s. At this time, and for many years afterward, chocolate was purely a drink. It was known as ‘XOCO – ATL’ (meaning ‘bitter water’) and was used for fatigue and it was supposed to stimulate brain power. Chocolate was always drunk, and not eaten until relatively recently in the middle of the last century. Beans were also used as money – making it even more valuable. 100 beans could buy a slave; four beans a rabbit etc. Who says that ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’?!
In, 1519 Hernan Cortes – Spanish explorer and one of Christopher Columbus’ ambassadors – met flamboyant emperor Montezuma in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Montezuma’s name has become immortalised for the vast quantities of foaming ‘xoco latl’ he used to drink before visiting his harem of wives – this started the legend of chocolate and sex! Chocolate was Montezuma’s Viagra! It was Cortes took cocoa ‘home’ to the Spanish court, thereby bringing it to Europe for the first time.[callout title=Chocolate facts]In Britain, we now eat on average just under 7 oz per person per week. The confectionery industry is worth over £5 billion in UK alone of which chocolate is £3.5 billion.[/callout]
Looking to modern times, the last few years have seen chocolate come of age, with a breathtaking revival of fine quality chocolate from chocolate houses like Barry Callebaut, Valrhona, l’Opera, El Rey, Amedei and Lindt. Even in the States, not renowned for its fine chocolate – there are a few entrepreneurs endeavouring the raise the profile of good chocolate – in particular Scharffenberger.
Chocolate Week is a time of pure indulgence involving the country’s best chocolatiers and chocolate shops holding events all over the UK. The week is “choc” full of talks, tastings, demonstrations, sampling, chocolate-themed meals, chocolate cocktails, sculptures, recipes and much more, and culminates in a dedicated chocolate show, Chocolate Unwrapped, at Vinopolis on 16th & 17th October.
For more information on these tasty events, visit the Chocolate Week 2010 website.
For all chocoholics out there who would like nothing better than to indulge, but don’t want the calories going straight to their hips, then Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics has enough chocolate-based products to give you your fix, but also leave you looking and feeling fantastic.
Cocoa butter forms the base of their massage bars and emulsions, like the Cupcake facemask (£4.95 for 75g) which wouldn’t be the same without cocoa powder. The delicious Whipstick lip balm (£4.75) also contains cocoa absolute, making it one of the tastiest and most beneficial balms available.
Or what about the scent wafting around your home? Perfect for the cold winters nights is the warming fragrance of chocolate that will definitely save you from falling off the diet wagon. The three wick white chocolate scented Baroque candle from Blend Boutique not only smells delicious but also looks stylish too.
Snuggling up with this gorgeous chocolate cashmere throw (£160 from Lombok) is almost as good as eating it.
What about wearing your love of chocolate? Helen Rochfort, Queen of the quirky handbag, has introduced a limited edition chocolate scented Wonka Bar handbag (£69)! Combining the top selling Wonka handbag design and the recently introduced scratch and sniff fruit machine handbags, this design is bound to be a hit. This limited edition bag is available only on the Helen Rochfort website!
Right well it is just about time for a one more chocolate I think…
[picture credits: Rick Payette; Dreamstime]