Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chocolate for Health.

Today, March 20th …

The scientific name for the tree that gives us chocolate is Theobroma cacao, which roughly, but entirely appropriately translates as ‘food of the gods’. The name was given by ‘the father of modern taxonomy’ Carl von Linné in 1737, but he wasn’t the first to honour its divine taste by suggesting an especially divine origin. He may have been familiar with the work of a Parisian physician called Joseph Bachot, whose medical treatise published on this day in 1684 suggested that cacao could have been, or should have been the food of the gods, rather than nectar or ambrosia.

Chocolate has certainly inspired both more hyperbole and true passion than any other food, so I am ashamed to admit that this blog has not paid it sufficient homage to it to date. In honour of the medical man who first went public with his passion for it, we will address this omission by considering the long history of its use for medicinal reasons.

Historically, newly discovered foods were often suspected of causing disease or promoting undesirable behaviour. In the case of the potato, it was believed it caused leprosy, which did seem to slow down its acceptance somewhat. In the case of chocolate, potential consumers were warned by a series of clerics and physicians that it might ‘incite to venery’. It does of course - otherwise it would be a waste of money on Valentine’s Day – and not surprisingly the campaign was a resounding failure and Europeans adopted this gift from the New World with astonishing speed.

Historically new foods were often used initially for medicinal purposes until they became commoner - therefore cheaper and less mysterious - whereupon they were adapted for pleasurable ingestion. This was certainly true for chocolate, which seems set to have a second popularity as a remedy if we are to believe some recent studies. It seems unlikely that it will ever be as widely prescribed – or as popular via some routes of administration as described in 1898 in King's American Dispensatory.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.
CHOCOLATE, when scraped into a coarse powder, and boiled in milk, or milk and water, is much used as an occasional substitute for coffee, and for a drink at meals. It is a very useful nutritive article of diet for invalids, persons convalescing from acute diseases, and others with whom its oily constituent does not disagree, as is apt to be the case with dyspeptics.
BUTTER OF CACAO is a bland article, rather agreeable to the taste, and highly nutritious; it has been used as a substitute for, or an alternate with, cod-liver oil, and as an article of diet during the last days of pregnancy. It has also been employed in the formation of suppositories and pessaries, for rectal, vaginal, and other difficulties (see Suppositories). It likewise enters into preparations for rough or chafed skin, chapped lips, sore nipples, various cosmetics, pomatums, and fancy soaps; and has also been used for coating pills.
Theobromine when absorbed acts powerfully as a diuretic, and has a stimulant or exciting action which is not possessed by chocolate itself. It is, however, quite difficult of absorption, and is without effect upon the heart and circulation. It enters into the compound known as Diuretin, which, in certain conditions, is an active diuretic.

Chocolate suppositories? I don’t think so!

Here, from Charles Ranhofer’s The Epicurean (1894), is a lovely light Chocolate Souffle, just the thing if you are feeling a little poorly. Take orally, as required.

Soufflé au Chocolat.
Melt in a saucepan at the oven door, in a little tepid water, four ounces of grated chocolate; remove and pour it into a bowl to smooth nicely; mix into it five or six spoonfuls of vanilla sugar, beating it in vigorously, then add four or five spoonfuls of the following preparation: Place in a tureen two tablespoonfuls of flour, a pinch of arrowroot, two tablespoonfuls of sugar and a little salt; dilute with half a gill of milk; strain into a saucepan and add two tablespoonfuls of melted butter and a little vanilla; stir on the fire until it boils and when smooth reduce till it is consistent and detaches from the pan; take out the vanilla and let partly cool. Add eight raw egg-yolks, two ounces of melted butter, four beaten whites and three spoonfuls of whipped cream. When all these ingredients are well incorporated pour the preparation into one or two soufflé pans without filling them too high. Set the pan on a small baking sheet and bake the soufflés in a slack oven from twenty to twenty-five minutes.

Tomorrow’s Story …

To the Sugar Camp

This Day Last Year...

Breaking rationing rules was just not British in 1940.

Quotation for the Day …

The confection made of Cacao called Chocolate or Chocoletto which may be had in diverse places in London, at reasonable rates, is of wonderful efficacy for the procreation of children : for it not only vehemently incites to Venus, but causes conception in women . . . and besides that it preserves health, for it makes such as take it often to become fat and corpulent, fair and amiable. William Coles, “Adam in Eden” (1657)


MP said...

I'd take soufflé over medicine almost any day, but then, chocolate can be such a good tonic for many problems... amazing post!

Anonymous said...

Simply superb. I love your stories.. and this one on chocolate reaffirms what I suspected. Good ol' chocolate can cure any and everything