A Little of What You Fancy.They say that a little of what you fancy does you good. I don’t know who “they” are, but I believe them. In my own case, I fancy chocolate. I fancy it often, as a matter of fact. It appears that my colleagues in the medical profession increasingly fancy it too, for its potential therapeutic benefits.
Let us start with the obvious. The cacao bean is a fruit, right? And we are urged to eat two servings of fruit a day, are we not? I (almost) rest my case.
A second point: history is on the side of chocolate-as-therapy. Sure, we are talking here about therapy-before-science, but anecdotal evidence is not completely to be ignored, it is often where the serious science gets started, isn’t it? And surely it is foolish to ignore several centuries’ worth of anecdotes and testimonials?
It is difficult to think of something that chocolate has not at some time or other been credited with fixing – everything from stomach upsets to kidney stones to ‘female complaints’ to syphilis, and a whole lot more. It has been used to increase strength and bravery before battle, to promote breast-milk, encourage hair growth, and promote fertility. And of course, it has been promoted as an aphrodisiac, which is common knowledge or chocolate sales would not be so high on Valentine’s Day. Naturally also, it has also been credited with increasing longevity – whether by positive effects or the reduction of the above diseases, I cannot say – but a few extra years is a few extra years, right?
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, as they also say. In the case of chocolate, added flavours may also help the therapeutic effect. This is certainly what physicians and apothecaries believed in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries believed. I am sure that the clients of such as Sulpice Debauve, the pharmacist of King Louis XVI, and Parisian chocolate shop-owner (the shop is still there) agreed. What lady, suffering from ‘spasms’ would not appreciate the orange-blossom water added to Debauve’s ‘Ladies Chocolate”? Other common additives to his included vanilla, almond oil, ambergris, and musk.
Any good advertising agent likes testimonials too. Here are a few, if you don’t mind them being a little old.
“Twill make Old Women Young and Fresh; Create New-Motions of the Flesh”
Chocolate; or, An Indian Drink (1652) Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma.
“Walked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night's drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose, and went with Mr Creed to drink our morning draught, which he did give me in Chocolate to settle my stomach.”
Samuel Pepys, in his diary on April 24, 1661, after celebrating the coronation of Charles II.
“Dr. Munday noted a patient in a ‘miserable condition’ who, after ‘supping of Chocolate…[was] recovered in a short Time; but what is more extraordinary is, that his Wife in Complacency to her Husband, having also accustomed herself to sup Chocolate with him, bore afterwards several Children, though she was looked upon before not capable of having any’ ”.
Treatise on All Sorts of Foods…also of Drinkables (1745) M.L. Lemery
Modern research is coming up with some intriguing prospects for chocolate therapy. There will be many more studies no doubt, and I, for one, put my hand up as a volunteer for any research project involving the consumption of chocolate. In the meantime, there is increasingly convincing evidence that the flavonoids in chocolate may have a powerful anti-oxidant effect which may be of benefit in heart disease and cancer.
So, in the hope and expectation that The Food of the Gods may, in my lifetime, become The Prescription of Choice, I give you a recipe for chocolate ice-cream, from Menon’s La Cuisinière Bourgeoise (1750)
Chocolate Ice Cream.
Take 12 pints of cream and 4 pints of milk and let it boil with ¾ pound of sugar. Take ½ pound of chocolate that you melt in a pan of water set in the fire, which you stir with a spatula or wooden spoon, and let it simmer just to the point of boiling. You must add three egg yolks that you have mixed well with the milk and cream. Pour it all into the pan with the chocolate and mix together. Then you must place it in a terrine until you are ready to place it on ice.