Heart of Chocolate
Chocolate … the word alone can make a woman swoon. Dark, milk, sweet, semi-sweet, bittersweet or unsweetened, its silky smoothness melts sensuously on the tongue. Chocolates, heart-shaped box notwithstanding, have long been held as the quintessential tried and true gift at Valentine’s Day for good reason. Its stimulating effects have been celebrated since the beginning. Even Casanova is said to have indulged in a few bites of that sweet treat before each of his seductions. Chocolate and Viagra apparently have a lot in common.
The Mayans were the first to harvest cocoa beans. They crushed them and mixed the powder with water to make a bitter-tasting drink. They believed it was an aphrodisiac, and that drinking it would boost fertility. (Cocoa beans were so highly prized that they were used as a form of currency.)
Chocolate contains phenylethylamine and seratonin. Both are naturally occurring chemicals that stimulate the brain. So, it’s no wonder that eating chocolate puts us in the right mood for love. Sugar was unknown, so the thick, cold, unsweetened drink the Mayans enjoyed was often flavoured with chili (which, by the way, is also said to excite the senses).
It took until the 1500s for Hernando Cortès of Spain to discover that sweetening cocoa with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg makes a tantalizing concoction. Eventually, chocolate shops sprang up all over Europe. Whether or not claims of chocolate’s rousing qualities are true, most people certainly derive a lot of pleasure from consuming it.
Matching wine to chocolate can be tricky. The melt-in-your mouth sweetness can overpower many wines leaving them tasting bitter and weak. The best matches come from those potent fortified wines, such as Port, sherry or cassis. Their natural sweetness brings out aromas of cinnamon, vanilla, nuts and fruit, all of which make extraordinary accompaniments to chocolate.