Just when we thought all the seductive deserts and sugary treats were behind us after Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The gyms are crowded as everyone is finally losing those few extra holiday pounds after a bit of overindulging. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the stores without being seduced by the sugar gods. Yet, we are now again faced with the holiday that sends chocolate makers working overtime. The sweet scents and aromas make their way into your nose setting off bells and whistles, the pleasure sensors, the cravings that you must have at that moment. Everywhere you turn there is chocolate everything, chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, chocolate dipped strawberries, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered nuts, chocolate brownies, cupcakes, and of course the Russell Stover red heart shaped boxes with chocolates inside that are secretly filled with coconut, caramels, mocha cream, raspberry, nuts, and more. Milk chocolate, 60, 70, 85 and even 90% dark chocolate, white chocolate, flavored mint, coffee, and almond chocolates all line the shelves. There is simply no escape from Valentine’s Day. February 14th it seems that it is not the holiday for love but, the holiday for chocolate. So let’s just take a look at the statistics on chocolate surrounding this lover’s holiday and our love affair of chocolate.
First of all, where does chocolate come from? Chocolate starts from the Cocoa tree or the theobroma cocoa tree which in Greek means, “Food of the gods” where it is only grown in the tropics in remote areas in West Africa, Southeast Asia, and central and South America. The beans come from fruits grown on these trees called pods which look like little footballs that are grown straight out of the trunk of the tree. What’s inside these pods are about 30 to 40 seeds, the little treasures that make the chocolate. These seeds are covered in a white pulp and are very bitter before they are processed into chocolate. Farmers harvest and crack open these pods twice a year, scoop out the seeds where they are left to ferment and dry out as the pulp melts away for about a week. This process changes the flavor and the color from white to brown. After this is done, the beans are shipped to factories where they are inspected and cleaned. Then they are roasted and ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. Finally, they are processed by being mixed with sugars and other ingredients to finally become the bar that is wrapped in foil and decorative paper that we all see everywhere today. In West Africa alone there are 1.5 million cocoa tree farms. Farmers produce and average of 3.8 million tons of cocoa beans per year and about 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in Africa.
The cocoa beans themselves before processing into a sugary treat are very healthy for you. They are considered a super food, a food that is capable of warding off disease, free radicals, and sickness, a food that contains over 700 known compounds and possibly more, a food that some experts say is one of the most healthiest you can put into your body, again, “food of the gods”. They are very high in antioxidants a compound that plants have to protect their cells and in the human body prolong protect premature aging and ward off disease. They are rich in polyphenols suck as, flavonoids which are associated in cardiovascular health. These beans are a good source of fats, fiber, carbohydrates, proteins, sulfur, copper, iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 , E, and small amounts of vitamin A and C. They are truly nature’s healthy food.
Now, getting back to Valentine’s Day, In the 400’s February 14th became the official holiday of for honoring St. Valentine by Pope Gelasius. The, in the 1300’s Valentine’s Day became the day for love and romance. Moving on the 1600’s it was known that the Europeans started the tradition for exchanging Valentines and by the 1940’s the United States was the first to mass produce Valentines. Today, Americans rush out in the final weeks before the 14th and spend about 448 million dollars on candies that is about 58 million pounds of chocolate bought the week prior. Just think a boing 747-8 the largest and heaviest jet liners weighs in at just under a million at 987,000 lbs.(boeing.com) now line up 58 of those bad boys to equal 58 million lbs. now that’s a lot of chocolate. Hershey’s alone produces 80 million chocolate kisses every day. So how is chocolate associated with romance?
It is said that this rich, creamy and smooth chocolate treat is an aphrodisiac. Well, there are two chemicals in chocolate that trigger the pleasure parts of the brain or sexual desires. One is called tryptophan this helps the serotonin to increase which is the arousal chemical. The second is phenylethlamine which is associated with the falling in love chemical. According to studies, when these two chemicals are elevated, it produces a good feeling and this can put you in the right mood. It is also said that when chocolate melts in your mouth it can cause a more intense feeling than kissing. So, then it would make sense that Valentine’s Day and chocolate would go together. Even though chocolate is always good anytime of the year. However, being a vegan and being that there is so much chocolate all around, what’s a vegan to do?
But wait, is there a way for a healthy vegan to still satisfy that chocolate craving experience the feel good chemicals in the brain, the delicious and mesmerizing flavor, while still keeping it healthy? Is there chocolate out there that vegans can have to avoid those sweet sugary temptations that lurks around every corner in every store? Yes there is! Although there are some vegan bakeries and chocolates offered in some locations, they are not always close by or available and not always very healthy. Sense my husband and I are altheles and we are pretty stict on what we put into our bodies, I was trying to come up with something that is not only healthy but sweet, smooth and delicious. I simply could not decide on one thing to make. So, after my kitchen and myself was covered in chocolate, I came up with a few things that were all easy and fun to make. Althought they are still a sweet treat we don't have to feel guilty eating them on Valentines Day. I made chocolate peanut butter tarts and truffles make with fudge, orange, strawberry and cashew filling. All’s I can say is mesmerizing and melt in your mouth better than kissing reaction (well almost but, pretty darn close). Make them and see for yourself, they will make Russell Stover jealous. “forget love……I would rather fall in chocolate!”