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Chocolate – Magic Beans?

Chocolate – Magic Beans?

Chocolate- a girl’s best friend! But how much do we know about the food that plays such huge part in our life? The contents, the chronicles and the controversy surrounding chocolate is vast. The question is, why?

Why do we love it?

How is it that those bitter brown pods create a pleasure so luxurious that an average of 8.4kg per person is consumed every year? Chocolate affects the lives of most people in the UK in a major way, but why is it the world goes so mad for that unique, sweet taste?

Living in the UK; the 7th biggest chocolate consumer, even with summer just around the corner chocolate isn’t exactly hard to come by. The chocolate market has never been more popular; and although women everywhere are vowing to give up the comforting addiction for the sake of their bikini bodies, how long will it last? One day? Maybe two? But you’ll be pleased to know going cold turkey might not be the answer after all!

So where’s the science behind it all?

Tests have proved that chocolate in moderation can in fact be good for you. It contains over 300 distinct chemicals including flavanoids; these have powerful antioxidant effects which thin the blood to help prevent clotting and heart disease, and adding to the good news red wine has a similar effect. Dark chocolate especially is a potent antioxidant (which can prevent diseases such as cancer or coronary heart disease) so for dark chocolate lovers the news just keeps getting better, however for those over indulgers out there, eating too much chocolate can have the opposite effect. Due to the huge amount of fat and sugar found in chocolate, heart disease is once again back on the table. The main thing to remember is this: a small amount of chocolate, specifically dark, is the way to go. Not only does this then reduce the risk of obesity but it actually benefits your body in so many ways.

Blame it on the brain

Although many of the facts above will be extremely welcome to chocolate lovers nation wide, it’s not the reason we all love the stuff, so is the brain at fault? The ‘feel good factor’ linked with chocolate is in fact very scientific; “chocolate contains cannabinoids- the same compound responsible for the high of marijuana; It stimulates the brain’s pleasure receptors”. And although you’d need 25 pounds of the stuff to allegedly get truly high, cannabinoids certainly add to the kick. This along with the boost of serotonin and endorphin levels (these hormones produce a sense of well-being and result in the addictive ‘feel good factor’) and an extra caffeine buzz sums up how the brain is chemically affected.

The obvious question now is how addictive is this chocolate drug? Cases of chocolate addiction is rarely seen, however the desire to give up caffeine is becoming more and more popular. But there are many claims that despite all this science the reason people go for chocolate is just psychology, even opening the wrapper and looking at the contents starts your serotonin fibres firing!

A long, long time ago…

So where did the magic begin? What actually goes into chocolate to give it the nation’s favourite flavour? At its rawest form chocolate begins with a simple cocoa bean. It wasn’t until America was discovered around 1492 that the old world discovered chocolate. The origins can be traced back to the ancient Maya and Aztec civilisations in Central America, who first enjoyed ‘chocollatl’; a much prized spicy drink made from roasted cocoa beans, the only way of enjoying chocolate at the time. It wasn’t until the Victorians cam along that ‘solid’ chocolate was devised. It was 1765 when the first chocolate factory graced the world and the number of factories is still on the rise today. Then of course, Cadburys came along. Beginning with the drink mentioned above, progressing through to chocolate covered assortments and right through to the famous Dairy Milk Cadburys lead the market from the start, and to this day is one of the top companies in the world.

Is it all so sweet?

But chocolate isn’t all about munching in front of the TV and the perfect valentines gift. Ever wondered who and where it comes from these days? The answer’s not a pleasant one. Do you have children under 14 years old? Younger brothers or sisters? Now imagine them hauling deadly machetes all day everyday in the hazardous West African plantations. Multiply this by 284,000 just within West Africa. There’s your answer. Some 2500 are believed to be trafficked to work in Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria and have no access to education or even a decent home; they walk around with untreated wounds on their legs and nothing to work towards. “I used to go to school” said Marc Yao Kwame, who works with his brother on a remote farm, “But my father has no one to work on the farm, so he took me out of school. My mother’s a long way from here. I haven’t seen her for 10 years- since I was 2 years old.”

But we can help. The company ‘Divine’ has set up a completely fair trade chocolate business, quickly followed by ‘Dubble’; a version for the younger generation. The farmers own a third of the company’s shares which means they not only earn a profit from their businesses but get a say in how the chocolate is made and sold. Divine chocolate can be found in many supermarkets and have just under 30 different types, ranging from mini eggs to after dinner mints. In Tesco the milk and dark 100g bars are just 99p and the mint bar £1.09- a small price to pay to help those suffering live a fairer life.

To sum up…

Hopefully the world of chocolate has become clearer now and despite the obvious drawbacks, maybe there were a few welcome facts? I think the overall message here is that people LOVE chocolate. Despite the many theories, no one really knows the reasons why so I’ll let you continue to ponder the magic of chocolate.