Why does chocolate taste so good?
What does make chocolate taste go great, and keep people coming back for more (even when perhaps they shouldn’t). The appeal of chocolate can be traced back to several areas: the early history and refinement of chocolate as a commercial product; the process of making chocolate, and how its chemical makeup stimulates the taste buds and the body to produce a tasty reaction and addictive qualities.
In terms of the history of chocolate, the Aztecs in South America roasted cocoa beans, harvested from cocoa plants, to produce thick, bitter drinks. These were often treated with pimento and chili peppers, and represented a much rawer form of chocolate than what we are used to today. Forms of this chocolate, which was also mixed with maize and honey, were brought to Europe in the 16th century by Hernando de Soto, and became a luxury item for the aristocracy, albeit the chillis removed, and sugar added.
In the 19th century, powdered sugar and more refined types were developed in 1847 by companies like Cadbury, and in 1850 by Swiss companies like Nestle. Powdered chocolate was produced through factory blends, as was the processing of chocolate to produce an even blend and different shapes. Milk chocolate was also created to provide a less bitter taste than dark chocolate.
The modern method of producing chocolate relies on different ways of harvesting cocoa beans from pods. The beans are crushed and roasted, with the runoff being used as cocoa butter from the liquor residue and the powder for chocolate coating and other mixtures. The resulting beans are ground and conched in factory conditions to provide packed squares, which are melted, tempered and cooled to produce different textures and the hard crunch that we typically associate with chocolate bars. Ingredients are also added to reduce bitterness, and to create different flavours and combinations, such as fruit and nut based chocolate.
While this process creates a product that combines the strong taste of cocoa beans with less bitter ingredients, the actual chemical makeup of chocolate is more complex. Chocolate is made up of 300 chemical compounds, of which sugars and amino acids come together when cocoa beans are roasted. The chemical makeup of beans also contains small amounts of caffeine and phenylethylamine molecules, which can stimulate and release endorphins into the bloodstream, making chocolate taste good, and ensuring that it’s addictive.
Moreover, chocolate contains flavonols and polyphenols, which can boost the body’s immune system by removing free radicals. Small traces of endogenous cannabiniods are often found in chocolate, which have an addictive effect, and reduce the levels of serotonin the brain to lower anxiety. Levels of magnesium in chocolate have similarly been linked to female cravings during menstrual cycles, and to the presence of addiction forming tetrahydro-beta-carbolines.
In this context, chocolate’s rich taste has been linked to health benefits, including a reduced sensitivity to pain, and as a treatment for depression. Some supercentenarians have also been identified as being fond of regular doses of chocolate. However, chocolate is far less addictive than caffeine or alcohol. Levels of theobromine in chocolate, although small, are enough to cause problems for animals with less complex metabolisms than humans. This is the reason why dogs and cats should not be fed chocolate.
About the Author
Working with co-operative food as a freelance copywriter, Serena is also an avid blogger in her spare time for various other subjects such as health and fitness as well as travelling.