Whether Valentine‚Äôs Day, like Halloween, is rooted in the pagan celebration, Lupercalia or the Christian festival honoring the legend of St. Valentine is still up for debate. But one thing for sure is that Total U.S confectionery sales for Valentine‚Äôs Day 2014 are projected to be over $1 billion, and chocolate will make up approximately 75 percent of candy sales, according to the National Confectioners Association.
Chocolate has been associated with romance at least since Mexico‚Äôs 15th- and 16th-century Aztec Empire. Montezuma, the king of the ancient Aztecs, believed chocolate would make him virile. It is also thought that Madame Du Barry served it to all her suitors, and Casanova consumed chocolate instead of champagne to induce romance.
As an elixir for love, chocolate has been believed throughout history to bring smiles to the broken-hearted and to prompt amorous feelings in both men and women. In the 1800s, physicians commonly advised their lovesick patients to eat chocolate to calm themselves and mend their broken hearts.
These ideas of a connection between chocolate and love may be all in the mind. No, literally. According to “Food and Mood” by Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA) found in chocolate stimulates the nervous system, increases blood pressure and heart rate, and is suspected to produce feelings similar to those experienced when a person is “in love.”
In recent years, scientific evidence has begun to indicate that the nutrients, phytonutrients and fatty acids found naturally in cocoa may be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease ‚Äî again a connection to the heart. These effects have been attributed to flavanols, which are natural compounds that occur in a wide range of fruits and vegetables and have been extensively studied in cocoa.
The cocoa “beans” that form the basis of chocolate are actually seeds from the fruit of the cacao tree, which grows near the equator. The seeds grow inside a pod-like fruit and are covered with white pulp. To make chocolate, cocoa farmers crack open the pods, scoop out the seeds, ferment and dry them. The beans are shipped to factories, roasted and ground into a paste called chocolate liquor.
When you see “% cacao” printed on a label, it refers to the total percentage of ingredients by weight in that product that come from the cocoa bean, including the chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. The term is found most often on premium chocolates, especially dark chocolate.¬†In general, a higher “% cacao” lends a more intense chocolate flavor.
There are three main kinds of chocolate. Dark chocolate, which is simply chocolate liquor (the centers of cocoa beans ground to a liquid), plus extra cocoa butter, sugar, an emulsifier (often lecithin) and vanilla or other flavorings. Milk chocolate contains all of the previous ingredients, plus milk solids. White chocolate features cocoa butter. Think milk chocolate minus the cocoa solids.
In the mood for love? Then give these To-Die-For Low-Fat Brownies a try.
To-Die-For Low-Fat Brownies
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus one large egg white, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbs. butter, melted
7 ounces low-fat vanilla yogurt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using vegetable spray, lightly grease an 8″ by 8″ baking pan. Combine the sugar, cocoa, flour, and salt. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the eggs and vanilla into the center. Mix until all the dry ingredients have been combined. Add the butter and blend. Add the yogurt and blend until the mixture is a thick batter. Spread mixture evenly in pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until sides pull away slightly from pan. Let cool before cutting.
Calories: 177; Fat: 3.2g; Sat Fat: 1.5g; Chol: 20mg; Carbs: 36g; Fiber: 1g; Sodium: 73mg.
* Yields 16
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more at www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.