I must admit that it is hard to write this article without wanting to reach out for a block of good chocolate every few paragraphs or so!
Even though chocolate isn’t an everyday food, don’t you just agree that good chocolate is one of the essentials of life? Precisely because it is a special treat, that there is motivation to get the most out of every bite.
Why do we love chocolate so much?
For the simple reason that chocolate makes us happy. But why does it makes us happy?
Let science tell us
Let’s begin with the simple explanation provided by science.
It is not just all in your head; science shows us that chocolate has some key naturally-occuring compounds that make us physically feel good.
One of these compounds is tryptophan, which is used by the brain to make serotonin, the chemical that makes you happy.
Another compound is phenylethlyamine, which promotes feelings of attraction, nervousness and excitement – just like the initial euphoria of falling in love!
Theobromine, which is chemically very similar to caffeine, gives the characteristic “high” you get after eating chocolate.
Anandamide releases relaxing and soothing feelings in our body, similar to the feelings we get from cannabis. But don’t bother trying. You need a lot of chocolate before you get the same effect. You will probably be sick long before you got any serious buzz!
The small amounts of each individual chemical in chocolate may not have profound effects on its own. The combination of them all packaged nicely together in a bar, however, is definitely a winning combination to produce happy feelings in the eater.
Chocolate makes people happy because it tastes good and provides a moment’s respite from busy, and often stressed-out, lives. It feels like a bit of indulgence and guilty pleasure.
The texture is so smooth and silky, it is almost a sensual experience.
The receptors in our tongues respond to chocolate as though it is stroking us.
Good chocolate rarely lets us down, which is why we tend to rely on it so much. The anticipation and the reward of chocolate almost always match up!
We associate chocolate with good memories
There’s also more to chocolate than what meets the eye and what triggers the senses.
Chocolate triggers memories – eaten at happy occasions, secretly fished out of grandparents’ kitchen cupboard, given to us for Valentine’s Day. These delightful memories are re-awakened by the familiar taste of chocolate.
Growing up in Malaysia, one of my first memories of chocolate was stealing from my aunt’s M&Ms jar when I was around 4 or 5 years old. And eagerly anticipating Van Houten chocolates that came in metal tins in festive hampers that my family received as gifts back in the 1980s. I also remember distinctly the one piece of rum dark chocolate I first got to taste when I was 10. Somehow that made me feel very grown-up although I didn’t like it and didn’t take more than a bite!
For my husband, chocolate memories in England are tied up with Cadbury hot chocolate drinks on cold winter nights, Smarties, Terry’s chocolate orange, Easter chocolates, his mum’s chocolate cake and chocolate McVities digestives with cups of tea when he was old enough to drink them (and still his comfort snack).
So, whether the chocolate-induced happiness is due to particular chemicals or is more psychological probably isn’t really important.
The most important message is – chocolate makes you HAPPY!
How to get the best out of good chocolate
Buy the good stuff
You should never waste your money or your calories on crappy chocolate. Always buy the good stuff – the chocolate that hits you in the soul and brings warmth and joy to your whole body from the inside out.
This doesn’t mean it always has to be expensive artisanal chocolates; you don’t need to be a chocolate snob.
Find the treat that you love and that makes you really happy, and then this is YOUR good stuff.
We all know that we should be eating our chocolate more slowly, yet when it pops into our mouths it almost always vanishes instantly! If you eat your chocolate more slowly though, you derive maximum pleasure.
It can be an experience for all of your senses. Take a few seconds to smell the chocolate, and feel the anticipation of the taste to come. Feel the texture of it between your fingers (not for too long; it should start to melt immediately), and then snap a piece off to get a sense of how well tempered it is.
Place the chocolate in your mouth and break it up a little with your teeth so it can distribute around your mouth. Feel it on your tongue, let it melt around your mouth and move around your palate. Break down the different flavours in your mind and pick out what you can – sweet, salty, floral etc.
Your should still be able to taste good chocolate in your mouth ten minutes or so after finishing it. The memory of it should linger.
Eat it Mindfully
Slow down and eat your chocolate like the treat that it is. Relish every lovely moment.
Tips for eating mindfully
- When you want some chocolate, pay attention to the feelings in your body. Don’t eat it straight away; let yourself experience some longing and anticipation for this treat, and notice how you feel.
- Take a small piece and let it melt in the mouth for five or six seconds – wait for it to spread around the mouth, and then chew.
- Keep the mouth closed and breath in through your nose – this empowers all of the senses for the most enjoyment.
- Close your eyes and concentrate on the different taste sensations and textures.
- Think of the different descriptive words that pop into your head.
- Eat one piece at a time and pause after each one to fully appreciate it.
- Don’t each too much – leave yourself still wanting more.
Store it properly
Chocolate likes stability, so aim to store it away from heat, sunlight and humidity, and to control their fluctuations. This helps prevent degradation of flavour and spoilage.
I’d say eat any form of chocolate before its due date, but this usually won’t be a problem!
Chocolate bars: Bars ideally need to be kept between 15°C and 20°C in a cool, relatively dark place, such as your pantry or kitchen cupboard.
If your kitchen gets too warm in extreme Australian summer weather, you can keep it in the fridge but make sure you wrap it up tightly in an airtight container to prevent any odours from spoiling the taste or condensation from spoiling the texture. The best way to consume it after it has been refrigerated is to slowly let the chocolate acclimatise back to room temperature, several hours before eating it.
Chocolate truffles: Shop bought truffles should also be kept at the same cool room temperature, away from sunlight and in a dark pantry. Store them in the fridge in an airtight container if you’ve made them on your own with fresh cream.
Chocolate chips: Chocolate chips contain less cocoa butter than normal chocolate and can therefore withstand higher temperatures. But they’re still best kept airtight in your pantry or kitchen cupboard.
Cocoa powder: Place it in an airtight container in your pantry or kitchen cupboard.
The great combiner
Few things pair together better than chocolate with coffee, or tea.
Due to the various taste profiles, experiment with different types of chocolates with different coffees and tea, and discover what make good palate partners which are to your liking.
Choose flavours which do not overpower each other, e.g. don’t choose a dark chocolate over a delicate white tea, as you probably will just taste the chocolate.
Good coffee or tea + good chocolate = pure happiness
Enjoy your chocolate!
Share with us your favourite childhood memories of chocolate, your favourite chocolate flavour or anything chocolate related in the comments below. Happy eating!
Wishing you a great day,
Suk-yi is a caffeine lover, blogger, entrepreneur, air quality consultant, environmentalist, world citizen, wife and mother. She explores various topics related to coffee, tea, chocolate and everything in between on her blog. Make sure to follow her on her Facebook Page, Instagram Page and Pinterest Page.