The rainforest tree from which our beloved chocolate arises is the Theobroma cocoa located first in the Orinoco Valley of Venezuela. Presumably, wild cocoa then spread into Mexico where it was first cultivated. Though Theobroma cocoa originated from South America, the tree is now cultivated in virtually every tropical area in the world. Cocoa is grown commercially throughout Central and South America, Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Pacific Islands. This pervasive dispersal is testimony to the reputation of the tree and the heavenly fruit from which chocolate is derived. Did you know that Theobroma cacao means “Food of the Gods?” Yes, we love the food of the Gods! What you probably didn’t know is that there are the annual International Chocolate Awards which aim to reward excellence in the chocolate industry. Yes, chocolate is that awesome!
The chocolate we have come to crave is known by the industry as couverture chocolate. Couverture chocolate is a very high-quality chocolate that contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter (32–39%) than baking or eating chocolate. Chocolate, a sophisticated substance, possesses numerous mood-enhancing compounds that alter the brain’s serotonin level, producing a sense of delight like no other. Cocoa, the primary ingredient in couverture chocolate, is rich in antioxidant flavonoids that help the heart. But it is the caffeine, theobromine, phenethylamine (PEA), and anandamide that give us the greatest pleasure with each bite. Theobromine, caffeine’s chemical cousin, imitates caffeine’s stimulant effect but just to a lesser degree. These two cousins act independently, caffeine tends to alter mood positively and theobromine enhances your sense of pleasure. The most influential arousal and pleasure compound in chocolate is thought to be PEA. This neurological chemical spurs the activity of dopamine in the brain similar to that of being in love. But it is the anandamides found in chocolate that create the mind altering bliss that people all over the world have come to crave.
As with anything, your love for chocolate is all about personal taste. Chocolate comes from many different origins of the world. Taking the origin to a more refined degree, you can tickle your taste buds with chocolates of a particular region such as the Ocumare region of Venezuela or the jungles of Peru. Cacao acquires the flavors of the regions where it’s grown, just like the grapes of fine wine and the roasted beans of your favorite espresso. It is that worldly influence revealing the land’s natural riches in layers of chocolaty surprise that has people giddy for their next slice of heaven.