We assign an awful lot of power to chocolate in our culture. According to most of us, chocolate has the ability to alter our moods and make us feel comforted and loved. It’s presented as a gift on a bevy of holidays, most notably Valentine’s Day. But our esteem of chocolate pales in comparison to the high regard ancient Mesoamerican cultures, the Mayans and Aztecs being chief among them, held the bitter bean.
The Mayans celebrated chocolate as both a gift and as a medicinal elixir. Artifacts recovered from burial sites show cacao’s important place in the culture. Unlike the sweet confections we think of today, ancient chocolate was often ground into a paste and mixed with chilies and water to create bitter drinks.
Perhaps the Mayans were onto something. Recent studies continue to tout the health benefits of chocolate, as long as it is consumed in moderation, and the darker, the better. Benefits of regular chocolate intake may include a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and an increase in blood flow, vision and intelligence.
The next time you walk past the candy aisle in the grocery store, stop and scan the chocolate. Remember, it’s good for your health.