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Today is the Feast of St. Valentine and what better way for us to “keep it herbal” than to investigate the secrets of the magical Cacao – principal ingredient in
chocolate, that quintessential lovers’ gift….
Cacao has been used as a nutritional food since at least 1100 BC and it’s reported that the Maya were drinking chocolate by around 400AD. However their drinks were not sweetened like the chocolate of today, but were bitter and contained other spices.
Modern research has found some intriguing qualities to cacao and numerous potential nutritional benefits: Cacao contains a high level of flavonoids such as epicatechin – which may be beneficial to cardiovascular health. Researchers from Harvard found that the Kuna Indians living on the Panama islands who were heavy consumers of cacao had significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer than those on the mainland who do not drink cocoa to the same extent. (source) Numerous other studies have been performed on cacao and a whole host of potential health benefits have been reported.
Bear in mind the “darker” the chocolate (i.e. higher percentage cacao), the greater the potential benefits. However you may well get the best nutritional benefits from the raw, unprocessed cacao nibs – avoiding the sugar and other ingredients altogether. Although cacao by itself is bitter, not sweet, raw food experts will already know that you can mix pure cacao with other raw ingredients such as coconut, stevia, honey and / or dates in order to create treats that are sweetly delicious yet contain no refined sugars.
Here is our full page researching the history and medicinal uses of Cacao.
Is Cacao / Chocolate An Aphrodisiac?
It is sometimes stated (you gotta love marketing) that chocolate was the “secret aphrodisiac” of Montezuma II – the famous and mighty Aztec emperor of 1500AD who was renowned for his, ah, “kingly abilities” in satisfying large numbers of women. (Either that or he had extremely good PR!)
As the old tale goes, he had two queens, additional wives galore and a huge harem of lovely women at his beck and call – and his legendary prowess was attributed to the fact that he drank an astonishing 50 golden goblets per day of the frothing cacahuatl chocolate drink, which was considered by the Aztecs to be aphrodisiac. It was said that our manly emperor dined on nothing else other than this beverage – which was served cold and flavored with vanilla.
However it turns out from researches into the history of chocolate that the Aztecs had over 11 different types of chocolate drink – each blended with a variety of different herbs – and that only one of these drinks was considered aphrodisiac – despite all of them containing cacao.
In other words, something else in the drink was the “magic aphrodisiac ingredient”! Sadly, the meanings of the names of the ingredients (listed in what remains of the Aztec writings) has been lost in the mists of time…
However it is also known that cacao contains Anandamide – a “bliss inducing chemical” that is thought to affect motivation, pleasure, memory and possibly even pain relief in the human body.
Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why chocolate – along with Roses (also considered to have an aphrodisiac scent) – is still at the top of the list of Valentines’ gifts.
It appears that the “aphrodisiac” nature of chocolate may be – more than anything else – that is is a superbly sensual experience… a complex, invigorating taste… melts to the touch… everything about chocolate spells pleasure, sweetness and delight. It could be said that to share chocolate is to share pleasure… and that one sensual delight leads to another… so, Aztec kings and their Harems aside; it’s not surprising that chocolate endures to this day as one of the lovers’ gifts par excellence.
Happy Valentine’s Day and chocolate kisses from all of us at herbs-info.com!
Important note- never feed chocolate / cacao to cats, dogs or other pets! Researchers have found that substances found in cacao which do not cause problems in humans are not able to be metabolized efficiently by animals and can lead to cardiac, nervous system problems and possible death.
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