In my RiverTime series (RiverTime and DogDaze), two of the characters, both women, share a passion for chocolate. They even describe the men in their lives in terms of chocolate truffles. For them, the test of a good man is whether or not he can replace chocolate. This particular quirk resonated with my readers, because the allure of chocolate is practically axiomatic.
But why? What is it about chocolate (other than tasting so ridiculously good) that captures us? The explanation lies in the chemistry of chocolate. Its official name is Theobroma cocao, translated as “food of the gods” and it’s been linked to love practically forever.
For good reason, it turns out. Other so-called aphrodisiacs may enhance aspects of sex, but only eating chocolate seems to reproduce the brain chemistry of being in love.
This might be because chocolate, like love, is complicated. How complicated? Really complicated. To give you an idea, the human genome contains about 23,000 protein-coding genes. That’s a lot, but the cacao genome has more: 28,798 identified protein-coding genes to date.
Chocolate’s hundreds of constituent compounds all work together to make that delicious flavor, sensuous texture, and captivating aroma. Many other substances might claim those attributes, but few have the passionate following of chocolate. What is it that makes chocolate especially compelling (some say, addictive)?
The answer: Some of those compounds are psychoactive. For example, it contains stimulants like theobromine, which is abundant in and maybe specific to chocolate, and has a gentler more sustained stimulant effect than caffeine. In spite of rumors to the contrary, caffeine itself either occurs in small quantities, or, say some experts, not at all in chocolate.
Chocolate also contributes to juicing up brain serotonin (the “feel good” neurochemical), which increases sexual excitement, desire, and responsiveness.
With regard to love, probably the most potent component in chocolate is phenethylamine (PEA), a neurochemical that stimulates the nervous system to release endorphins, those pleasure-generating, opium-like compounds we’ve all heard about. PEA also increases the activity of dopamine, a neurochemical directly linked to sexual arousal and pleasure.
Finally, it contains cannabinoids. Yes, that’s right—the same euphoria-inducing compounds found in marijuana. Interestingly, cannabinoids are found in only two places besides marijuana. One is in the human brain, where a mind-altering cannabinoid named anandamide is generated. (By the way, Anandamide’s name derives from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means bliss.)
The other place anandamide is found? Yep, chocolate.
So, if you want to get your bliss on, like Montezuma, who reportedly drank 50 goblets of chocolate water each day to deal with his harem of 600 women, or Casanova, who habitually consumed chocolate before his seductions, reach for the chocolate (but only the dark variety—milk and white chocolate just don’t do it).
Of course, not every one consumes chocolate in pursuit of love. Miranda Ingram famously said, “It’s not that chocolates are a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate. Chocolate is, let’s face it, far more reliable than a man.”
Rae Renzi is the author of the award-winning novel RiverTime, and is also a brain and behavior scientist. Her newest book, DogDaze has just been released at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores. Visit her at www.RaeRenzi.com.
Ditsy Tarkington, a feisty, modern-day British aristocrat, thinks family ties are tantamount to slavery, but the love of her life, Nocona Wiley, a former soldier with unknown parentage and uncertain ancestry, holds family sacred. Assaulted by cultural prejudice and family responsibilities, the lovers are torn apart, but a pair of canny canines, a coveted job opportunity and the terrifying fallout of a drug-running scheme bring them back together to learn lessons of love and loyalty.