By Romina Monaco

I’m a full-fledged chocoholic. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t indulge in this warm, delectable and intoxicating elixir of life. Needless to say, I’m not the only one. Since its origins in ancient Central America to the wide assortment displayed in the aisles of modern-day supermarkets, chocolate has become an integral facet of our society.

Known as Xocolatl - or “bitter water” by the Aztecs, chocolate was consumed mainly as a beverage. Its 4000 year-old evolution began with the Mayans who grounded the beans of the native Theobroma tree into a fine powder and then combined this cocoa with water to create a frothy drink. Adopting the Mayan’s use of chocolate, the Aztecs also used this valuable commodity as currency - even prescribing it to combat fatigue. Served with chili pepper, herbs, vanilla and wild honey, it wasn’t until the arrival of the Spaniards that sugar and milk was added in order to offset the beverage’s tart bitterness.

Centuries later the Italians introduced a revolutionary machine that solidified chocolate. Henri Nestle and Rodolphe Lindt were responsible for vastly improving its quality. However, the one who gets the pat on the back for its commercial success is John Cadbury who created the first-ever chocolate bar.

Today chocolate comes in many varieties and recent studies show that there are many health benefits associated with this treat. Sadly I’ve severed my relationship with milk chocolate - the popular choice among consumers. I discovered that there are few benefits due to the high sugar levels and minimal cocoa content. With this growing awareness I’ve recently opted for the dark variety which should contain anywhere from 30% to above 70% cocoa. According to medical professionals cocoa levels must be within this percentile in order to have any positive effects.

Chocolate releases “happy” neurotransmitters in our brain and can be a mood-enhancer. These neurotransmitters –endorphins, serotonin and dopamine - reduce stress, alleviate depression and bring about feelings of euphoria. So I ask myself, is this is the reason why I am always so happy?

One ounce of the dark variety also contains enough antioxidants to strengthen the immune system. Besides hardening tooth enamel, it also lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduces the risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, heart attack as well as other cardiovascular disorders. Although unproven, chocolate has long been used as an aphrodisiac. The Marquis de Sade, Madame de Pompadour and the insatiable Madame du Barry were known to indulge in chocolate in order to enhance their sexual prowess.

Finally, the pinnacle of every chocolate aficionados dream -including my own - is the annual Spring Chocolate Ball. A night of decadence in the City of Vaughan, the gala celebrates this delicacy on the grandest of scales – tantalizing appetizers, hearty entrees and decadent desserts all au chocolat. The event, befitting chocolate’s health advantages, justly supports the Heart and Stroke foundation. This will be a feast even the Mayans couldn’t imagine!

Published in Snap Woodbridge and Snap Caledon May Edition