The Dark Side

By / Food / March 17th, 2008 / 3

Although money doesn’t grow on trees, chocolate does. Named Theobroma (which translates as “food of the gods”) by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, cacao trees do more than thrive in tropical climates and nurture pods the size of papayas that are full of seeds. They live deep in the minds of all gourmets.

The seeds, or beans, are roasted and fermented to develop flavour. Dark chocolate not only offers rich, satiating flavours to the connoisseur, it has also emerged as a super-food. It is so loaded with antioxidant phenol compounds that a cardiac surgeon told me consuming it might prevent heart disease. Like I need incentive to eat more!

And that’s why chocolate consumption borders on addiction for some. But dark chocolate isn’t a new fad. Mayans and Aztecs used it as a hallucinogen — it contains mood elevators and cannabinoid chemicals — and consumed a drink made from ground cacao beans spiced with chili, flowers and wild honey. As if that wasn’t enough, they also used cacao beans as currency. Sadly this practice has become obsolete: try to settle a restaurant tab with a handful of cacao beans today and you’ll quickly find yourself washing dishes.

So if, like me, you frequently overdose on chocolate confections, cooking with dark chocolate will take you to new heights. It can be enjoyed savoury or sweet, spicy or mild, in ways you may never have imagined. Go ahead, cook with chocolate until you think you’re sick of it. It’s only temporary: you’ll be back for more.


From the farmer’s field to the dining table, Joanne Will writes about the people and issues connected to the journey of food. Joanne Will is an independent journalist who has covered diverse topics - from food, agriculture and transportation, to business, arts and the environment. For more information visit

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