Why do we crave chocolate?

LONDON. July 28. KAZINFORM For most of us, chocolate is a guilty pleasure. We crave it because it tastes wonderful and sweet - although we know we should really be stretching for the fruit bowl.

The British are particularly fond of chocolate. Research shows the average Brit enjoys around 11kg (24lb) of chocolate a year, making the UK one of the biggest consumers of chocolate in the world. Only the Swiss and Germans eat more, BBC informed.

But a recent study suggests that chocolate cravings are not a modern phenomenon. In fact, chocoholism may date back to the 18th Century and beyond.

Cacao beans, which are the basic component of chocolate, were roasted, ground and drunk with water by the Mayans from around 2,000 years ago.

In the 14th Century, the Aztecs concocted chocolate drinks with flavourings and used the beans to treat a number of common ailments.

Then in the late 1700s in Mexico, a young doctor started seeing chocolate as harmful, rather than medicinal. He blamed an increase in hysteria among women and nuns in several cities on their excessive consumption of chocolate.

Was this actually an extreme form of chocolate craving?

According to a paper presented at the International Congress on the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester this weekend, cacao was very popular at the time and could be served hot or cold for medicinal or pleasure purposes.

Nuns were particularly privileged, says author Dr Mauricio Sanchez Menchero, and they "were able to have as much chocolate as they wished for regardless of costs".

Even a sharp rise in the price of chocolate did not affect consumption levels in convents, he says.

So when new laws were brought in which forced nuns to do away with personal servants and make their own food and drinks, their intake of cacao was "greatly diminished" and they were afflicted by hysterical attacks.

Dr Jose Bartolache was convinced that the cacao plant played a major role in ill health, although very tight clothes and going to bed late were other supposed causes.

The bitter, dark chocolate eaten by the nuns is nothing like the sugary, flavoured milk chocolate which is popular today - but the reaction is understandable.

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