|Chocolate, Please: “Advert for Fry’s Chocolates, one of the biggest players in the chocolate industry throughout the 18th and 19th century.” |
Photo Credit: J.S. Fry & Sons, Ltd.; 1900.
Source: Miami University Libraries, Oxford, Ohio
An article, by Christine A. Jones, in Public Domain Review looks at a time when 17th century Europeans considered chocolate as a medicinal drug—to be used with caution and only under the advisement of a pharmacist or physician. Jones, an associate professor of French and comparative literary and cultural studies at the University of Utah, writes:
In the seventeenth century, Europeans who had not traveled overseas tasted coffee, hot chocolate, and tea for the very first time. For this brand new clientele, the brews of foreign beans and leaves carried within them the wonder and danger of far-away lands. They were classified at first not as food, but as drugs — pleasant-tasting, with recommended dosages prescribed by pharmacists and physicians, and dangerous when self-administered. As they warmed to the use and abuse of hot beverages, Europeans frequently experienced moral and physical confusion brought on by frothy pungency, unpredictable effects, and even (rumor had it) fatality. Madame de Sévigné, marquise and diarist of court life, famously cautioned her daughter about chocolate in a letter when its effects still inspired awe tinged with fear: “And what do we make of chocolate? Are you not afraid that it will burn your blood? Could it be that these miraculous effects mask some kind of inferno [in the body]?”1
These mischievously potent drugs were met with widespread curiosity and concern. In response, a written tradition of treatises was born over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Physicians and tradesmen who claimed knowledge of fields from pharmacology to etiquette proclaimed the many health benefits of hot drinks or issued impassioned warnings about their abuse. The resulting textual tradition documents how the tonics were depicted during the first century of their hotly debated place among Europe’s delicacies.
Chocolate was the first of the three to enter the pharmaceutical annals in Europe via a medical essay published in Madrid in 1631: Curioso Tratado de la naturaleza y calidad del chocolate by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma. Colmenero’s short treatise dates from the era when Spain was the main importer of chocolate. Spain had occupied the Aztec territories since the time of Cortés in the 1540s — the first Spanish-language description of chocolate dates from the 1552 — whereas the British and French were only beginning to establish a colonial presence in the Caribbean and South America during the 1620s and 30s. Having acquired a degree in medicine and served a Jesuit mission in the colonies, Colmenero was as close as one could come to a European expert on the pharmaceutical qualities of the cacao bean. Classified as medical literature in libraries today, Colmenero’s work introduced chocolate to Europe as a drug by appealing to the science of the humors, or essential bodily fluids.It been hundreds of years since chocolate was met with such hot caution; today, chocolate is happily consumed, and the chief concern is getting fat or consuming too much sugar. Who today doesn’t enjoy a good hot chocolate on a cold day? There is something happening in our brains that induces feelings of well-being when we humans consume or ingest chocolate. While medical and scientific theory has progressed beyond the prevailing idea of the four humours, we have in some ways returned to it.
“Humoralism,” a theory of health and illness inherited from Hippocrates and Galen was still influential in 1630. It held that the body was composed of four essential liquids: black bile, blood, yellow bile, and phlegm. Each humor echoed one of the four elements of nature—earth, air, fire, and water—and exhibited particular properties that changed the body’s disposition: black bile was cold and dry, blood was hot and wet, yellow bile felt hot and dry, and phlegm made the body cold and wet. Balanced together, they maintained the healthy functioning of an organism. When the balance among them tipped and one occurred in excess, it produced symptoms of what we now call “disease” in the body. While common European pharmaceuticals had long been classified as essentially cooling or heating, cacao presented both hot and cold characteristics. Later treatises faced the same conundrum regarding coffee. Depending on how it was administered/ingested, hot chocolate’s curative effects also crisscrossed the humoral categories in unexpected ways.
We today acknowledge that food does affect our moods our health and our over-all well-being, yet today we consider the chemical reactions that take place in our brains as the primary reason for these good feelings. Chocolate contains chemicals that make us feel good; Kostas C. Kloukinas writes in “All About Chocolate” (2001):
There are some scientific reasons why chocolate makes us feel good and is good for us. To begin with, the main factors of sugar, fat, and carbohydrate provide a boost of energy. Then there is chocolate's seductive mouth feel, the result of cocoa butter, which melts at close to body temperature. Also, chocolate contains theobromine, caffeine, phenylethylamine (PEA), and anandamide that add to its appeal. These chemical substances have a profound effect on the brain and demonstrate that chocolate has a definite physiological effect on the body.It might well be that chocolate is one of those foods that both tastes good and provides medicinal effects.
For more, go to [PublicDomRev]