Chocolate: About the flavorsome centuries’ old elixir

It is common for many people to expect chocolate gift baskets as presents for special occasions including Easter. Many people love eating chocolate but few know where it originates from and its interesting history. Down the centuries man has used chocolate for medicinal purposes and to soothe both body and soul. It is undeniable that eating chocolate induces a feel good feeling because it contains some mildly stimulating chemicals. As we therefore continue giving our loved ones chocolate gift baskets to cheer and uplift them, we are indeed continuing a long tradition.

Perhaps the best place to begin looking for clues about the medicinal uses of chocolate is where it is thought to have originated from, that is the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. The history of chocolate can be gleaned from documents that were recovered after the Spanish conquest, namely the Badianus and the Florentine Codices. According to these records, Aztecs thought of chocolate as having great medicinal value.

The early users of chocolate did not munch it in bars like we do or pass it around in chocolate gift baskets; they made a hot beverage by mixing cocoa with water and found the resulting brew to be quite phenomenal. It is perhaps the mild stimulating qualities of chocolate that convinced the ancient users about its ability to rejuvenate their bodies. Drinking this brew made them feel alert, awake and strong.

As soon as chocolate landed in Europe, courtesy of early explorers like Hernan Cortes, it acquired new and varied medicinal uses. A chocolate drink was seen as a cure-all for all sorts of ailments from fatigue to anemia to stomach problems and a long list of other conditions. In fact, documents from 16th century Europe detailed more than a hundred medicinal uses of chocolate. During the early 19th century the English physician Dr. Hughes recommended chocolate for pregnant women. He observed that a chocolate drink was in itself a complete meal needing no other food, and that it was particularly good for pregnant mothers because it nourished the baby and prevented fainting fits.

The marvels of chocolate followed it into North America. America’s founding generations were greatly enamored by it; Thomas Jefferson famously predicted that chocolate’s superior qualities would soon make it surpass tea and coffee as the preferred beverage. Maybe this prediction was too optimistic because soon after chocolate began losing its medicinal allure and became more renowned for its delectable taste. Nonetheless, chocolate fans will concur that chocolate remains to be an effective elixir for the body and soul, and will always relish the thought of receiving chocolate gift baskets especially at special times such as Easter.

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March 27, 2012


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