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Chocolate Makes Everyday Sweeter

When it comes to Valentines Day, if I had to choose, I’d rather my husband give me chocolate than long stemmed red roses, unless the flowers are the edible kind. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but chocolate is her secret lover.

A week before Valentine’s Day, I bought a box of Russell Stover at the grocery store to give as a gift to my daughter, who also loves chocolate (it’s hereditary). I knew as I went through the checkout lane it was a bad idea. Then again I stock up on Halloween candy right after Labor Day knowing full well that the mini Snickers won’t last in the freezer until the end of October.

When I get home, I put away the apples and broccoli in the refrigerator, and I stash the fancy box of assorted chocolate covered nuts, cheweys, and crisps in a drawer in the china cabinet. (That’s a trick I got from my mom). I figure out of sight out of mind, right? But as the pot of water boils for spaghetti on the stove, I can’t control my cravings any longer. I sneak into my hiding place in the dining room and rip open the plastic wrap. My mouth waters as I admire the coconut clusters. I usually save my favorites for last. It isn’t long before little brown paper wrappers are scattered on the carpet, and the chocolate covered almonds and cherry nougats disappear. When my family asks me why I’m not hungry for dinner later that evening I fess up. I’m on a diet.

Eating chocolate makes me happy, and science proves it. Cocoa phenols, or flavonoids, in chocolate are shown to lower blood pressure and balance certain hormones in the body. Moreover, dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly eight times the amount found in strawberries), which is why chocolate covered strawberries are the answer to better cardiovascular health. Also, a study conducted by the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition in the United States indicates that cocoa powder in dark chocolate has even more antioxidants than pomegranate. Experts also believe that chocolate helps fight cancer, which is why I eat only chocolate macaroons on Passover.

In other words, it makes perfect sense that Valentine’s Day is in February—also known as heart health month.

For true chocolate connoisseurs, the history of chocolate and how it’s made is quite fascinating. Of course, the Jews had a hand in the discovery of this decadency. In fact, along with Christopher Columbus (who might have been Jewish), the Jews brought the fabrication of chocolate to France in the 17th century, and they played a vital role in the early production and distribution of chocolate in Europe. No one knows more about the rich relationship between Jewish people and chocolate than Rabbi Deborah Prinz and her husband Rabbi Mark Hurvitz, who travel the world studying chocolate (the best job) and write a blog called Jews on the Chocolate Trail. Read it here.

In the blog, it lists a few more tasty tidbits:

• Woody Guthrie wrote a song about Chanukah gelt.
• North American Jewish Colonial traders were involved in the chocolate trade.
• The popular Israeli chocolate company, Max Brenner, is owned by the Israeli food conglomerate Elite Strauss.
• Jewish values such as oshek (honest and fair labor practices) and bal taschit (saving that which has potential for future use) should be considered when selecting chocolate.
• We could (and should) add chocolate into more Jewish rituals and celebrations, such as a chocolate seder and chocolate covered matzah.

The process of making chocolate is interesting as well. First, all chocolate products begin with the cacao bean. The bean is roasted and ground into a thick chocolate nonalcoholic liquor. This liquor hardens and becomes unsweetened chocolate. When pressure is added to the liquor, it pushes out the bean’s fat, called cocoa butter. Cocoa powder is made by drying and sifting the remaining material from the liquor.

Commercial chocolate is the combination of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. The higher the percentage of cacao, the darker the chocolate and the more intense the flavor. And as cacao content goes up, less sugar is allowed. A bar labeled 70 percent chocolate is 70 percent cocoa plus cocoa butter and 30 percent sugar.

Now I’ll drink to that, as long as its red wine. In fact, the anti-aging ingredient resveratrol found in red wine thins blood and reduces the incidence of heart attack and stroke. It gets even better. In addition to enjoying the health benefits of chocolate and red wine for Valentine’s Day, it turns out that flowers, especially the scent of roses, improve mood, anxiety, skin aliments, and sleep. And while I’m on the subject of ecstasy, sex is scientifically proven to have 10 times the anxiety/muscle spasm-reducing effect of Valium.

But don’t tell my husband.