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Chocolate As Medicine? Our Ancestors Knew Better………

If you are anything unlike a chocoholic like me, you would certainly be happy knowing that the treats that make our joys know no bounds, were also once used for their healing properties. I am not sure about you but when I found out about that sweet piece of history, I started loving my favorite indulgences from Schoko Chocolates even more, which when I think about that, seems quite an impossible feat to achieve, even for me. But let me stop my blubbering about my love for chocolates right now, because I want to share with you a few instances of chocolates being used as medicines in the past.

Xocalatl was a significant integration of ancient Meso and Southern American cultures. The Mayans and other cultures of the region perceived Xocolatl, which directly was derived from cocoa beans, as sacred. This bitter drink from cocoa paste was thought to be full with medicinal and aphrodisiacal qualities. And as such, it was mostly accessible by the men of high rank of the society. And unfortunately this drink was also given to the sacrificial victims, with the aim of making the Gods happy by awarding the unfortunate souls the foods that God gave them.

The Maya people used Chocolate as a drink in a milk free version, and often chilies were added with the drink which when we come to think about, would be utterly unrecognizable to modern chocolate drinkers like us. For us, the chocolates or the chocolate drinks have to be infused with milk and sugar and other necessary additives to make it the sweetened concoction as we know it today. The irony is that, for the sake of making it devilishly delicious, we are sacrificing the healing abilities of unpolluted cocoa. As we all know, the chemical properties of cocoa serve us best when they aren’t mixed with anything else. The ancient Mayans seemed to be aware of that and used it to the best of their ability. And when the European conquerors learnt about the medicinal approach of using cocoa, they followed through and rapidly embraced the therapeutic use of chocolate.

In the 16th century, Western world was following precedents set by Maya and Asian systems. The Mayan and Asian doctors were of the opinion that ailments were to be separated into pairs of opposing qualities, such as hot/cold or dry/moist. So, chocolate as a drink was thought to be a hot/dry medicine, which had to be taken for cold/damp ailments. Curiously, chocolate paste was perceived as the opposite and used as a cold medicine.

And the use of chocolate as a medicine was continued for many hundred years in the past for a plethora of conditions. And subsequently its application as a medicine kept evolving for centuries. Chocolate was used by itself, in conjunction with other herbs, or simply as a carrier to cloak out the taste of other medicines. One of the critical uses of chocolate oil was to tighten sphincter, much like the use of opium for dealing with haemorrhoids.

In the past, aside from its perceived powers of being an aphrodisiac, the general uses of the chocolate and chocolate drink as a medicine were divided into three broad categories - a nutritional source for decrepit or bony, an analeptic for the moribund and in fewer cases as a relaxant or a “soother” for troubled digestive tracts with lower doses. Irrespective of being a drink or paste, uncontaminated cocoa was rich with a high concentration of oils providing energy and nutrition. So, for the people who had difficulty in eating and thus suffered malnutrition, chocolate provide nourishment to them. In the 19th century, chocolates were used for helping cholera patients, since it had the ability to provide fluids for rehydration and energy until the disease ran its course.

Chocolate was being used only as medicine until the 19th century. With the advent of medicinal approaches and improvement in treatment procedures, people start replacing them by more specific ways of treating patients. But chocolates took the back seat as a medicine when their use as a confectionery started. And the process of their complete removal as medicines started when chocolate was first used as Easter eggs in the early 19th century. With the advancements of scientific endeavors, the modus operandi of chocolate compounding turned out to be cheaper and more accessible. And as a result, the general public also had the opportunity of tasting chocolates. Soon chocolate makers started making chocolates associated with human copulating rites. And the final nail of the coffin of chocolates’ medicinal use was incorporating chocolates in Easter eggs and rabbits and Bilbies. Consumption of chocolate as a mainstream treat exploded and we forgot the medicinal characteristics of cocoa beans.

The article should have been finished here. With the use of a few hundred words, I tried to cover a few hundred years worth of medicinal usage of chocolates. But don’t you want to know how the world’s most favorite treat did all of those? Let me enlighten you a little.

Chocolate is enriched with a number of active pharmacological substances. The ‘prime-mover’ is called Theobromine. The name shares its history from the scientific name of the cocoa plant, Theobroma cacao. Theobromine can create heightened alertness (and agitation if consumed in large quantities with higher concentrations). The natural substance can also relax the lungs muscles and consequently making the natural process of breathing easier. Then there is the thing called anandamide – responsible for making us feel good, affecting directly by working on our nervous system.  There is also a psychoactive substance phenylethylamine and flavonoids - the natural pigment hugely beneficial for heart health and a multitude of other positive effects for our bodies. And chocolates, especially dark chocolates, are a handful for antioxidants. But the caveat here is to derive the benefit out of cocoa, they need to be unadulterated and without chemically enhanced with the addition of sugar or milk, for making them tasting really good. Chocolate makers like Schoko Chocolate seem to be doing that by carefully creating handmade premium versions to keep the integrity of cocoa beans intact.

It seems that our ancestors indeed knew better – to get the best out of the food that Gods gave us – by consuming it at their bare minimum and at their purest of forms.

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