I did one last year, and it was, after I re-read it, quite interesting I thought.
So this time around, I thought I'd look at the central underlying concept behind this annual free-for-all. The central essence. The meaning of it all. The one single most important thing that binds humanity at this yearly love-in:
Yep. The wondrous brown stuff that we all love.
I was reading a book by Allan Pease, recently, titled Why Men Don't Listen, And Why Women Can't Read Maps, and there was an interesting bit about taste.
Now this book is a few years old, so the bit about taste has undergone a scientific paradigm shift since the book was written. Mainly in that science now acknowledges a fifth taste, now, that being "umami", or savoury.
Also, we now know that the taste centres on the tongue are not as clearly delineated as what we previously thought. But we still think that sweet is still there.
Consequently, the stats that the book quotes that have women as being more likely to be chocoholics than men still holds, although this is probably has to do with a lot more than just taste centres in the brain and tongue. Dopamine receptors is one. There are others.
Chocolate has been around for quite a while, but it was the Aztecs and Mayans of Central America who started cultivating it in a big way. I found a Wikipedia reference that had the Mayans consuming it as long ago as 2,600 years ago.
It comes from cocoa, which is itself produced from seeds found in the seed-pods of the cacao plant.
They basically brewed it into a drink, much like the hot chocolate that we drink now, although I can't find any info anywhere to suggest that they might have sweetened it at any stage. I did find out that the Aztecs liked theirs bitter and spicy, mainly due to the fact that they liked to try to concentrate the theobromine content. Theobromine is a bitter alkaloid with properties similar to caffeine - although it's not quite as strong a stimulant.
And, just like caffeine, theobromine is a mild diuretic which also increases serotonin production, although in large doses, theobromine also increases melatonin production as well in the human body.
The Aztecs called it Xocoatl.
Anyway, in Jamaica in 1689, a pharmacist named Hans Sloane is credited with inventing what we now know as milk chocolate.
Basically, Sloane had tried chocolate in its Indian form and found it vile. But when he mixed it with milk, he found that it was much better tasting.
Meanwhile, chocolate was becoming a much sought after commodity in Europe. The Cadbury brothers, John and Benjamin, were importing cocoa and selling it. The Cadbury brothers bought Sloane's recipe and found it to be massively popular when they started producing cocoa in Britain in the town of Bournbrook, which they got renamed, Bournville.
Bournville is now a suburb of the city of Birmingham, Britain's second largest city.
It wasn't long before solid chocolate was invented. Firstly, in the form of dark chocolate, and then later milk and white chocolate.
Today, most of the world's cacao is grown in Western Africa, with most of that grown in the Ivory Coast, or Cote d'Ivoire, if you like.
Chocolate is considered an addictive substance, with several chemicals contributing to this:
- Sucrose - the predominant sugar found in chocolate these days. I have seen diabetic chocolate which uses, amongst other things, fructose as a replacement. Not very diabetic friendly.
- Caffeine - the stimulant which gives tea and coffee their kick. Not much of this is in chocolate, but enough.
- Theobromine - this is chocolate's main stimulant. It's not as powerful as caffeine, but still reasonably potent.
- Anandamide - this is a cannabinoid which is also created in the human brain. Love this one.
- Tryptophan - this is an amino acid required for human nutritional needs. An excellent reason for eating chocolate. Tryptophan is used in the human body's production of serotonin, melatonin and also nicotinic acid, otherwise known as niacin, or vitamin b3.
- Phenylethylamine - this is an alkaloid and aromatic monoamine, which, it is suggested, may have psychoactive properties in large consumption.
At Easter, which is a global festival celebrating all things chocolaty, we celebrate this amazing food by eating loads of chocolate eggs, rabbits and chocolate in general.
In Australia, there is increased consumption of chocolate bilbies - the bilby is a large-eared marsupial which is the largest member of the bandicoot family.
Christians celebrate a festival at this time of the year, too, also called Easter. They have widely co-opted the chocolate motif, and shown great creativity by selling things like chocolate crosses and chocolate anatomically-correct effigies of Jesus. Sometimes this is considered controversial.
Man, I love chocolate. I'm pushing hard for an international chocolate festival in Melbourne during the Easter weekend in 2008.
It's just a shame that it would conflict with other major events.
The major one being the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
But anyway, have a good Easter. Partake of the chocolate sacrament.