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Chocolate’s gift of love and joy

The Valentine’s treat went from being a drink to coating
candy bars – and, along the way, conquered our hearts
Chocolate is luxurious and indulgent,
and has been used for centuries
as a token of appreciation
–Malley’s Chocolates website
By Cecilia Lietz

THE ULTIMATE PULSE-INDUCING, mouth-watering, and joy-making Valentine’s gift has always been chocolate.

Jacqueline Jacek is the owner of JᾹCEK Chocolate Couture, founded in 2009 in Jacek’s basement. Around Valentine’s Day, she and her staff are busy meeting the chocolate demands of their three Alberta locations, as well as filling online orders from across Canada.

Jacek’s designs come from combining fashion and making chocolate. The chocolate is her fabric. Throughout the years, she interchanges her chocolates just like fashion, including seasonal collections. She has also created between 50 and 60 different flavours.

“I wouldn’t put out anything I didn’t love,” Jacek says. “Everyone has its place.”

Her chocolates are made in-house. Aside from the cocoa beans, she uses local ingredients. She says her only goal is to “design things that are beautiful and bring joy.”

This year, JᾹCEK offered specially made heart-shaped boxes of assorted chocolates for Valentine’s Day. (Cecilia Lietz)

Many people find chocolate desirable, a phenomenon that dates back to 15,000 BC. The Mayans and Aztecs believed chocolate was a gift from the gods, placing a higher value on it than gold. When the Spaniards brought cocoa beans  back from Central America, Europe became addicted fast. The good that chocolate does isn’t limited to its creamy sweetness. It also tells the brain to release the pleasure drug of the mind – dopamine.

For a long time, chocolate was drunk and not eaten. This is because, upon discovering the cacoa tree and its fruit, the Mayans found they could not eat the bitter bean.

Refusing to give up on it, they discovered a new way to consume it. Through the process of fermentation, chocolate was turned into an alcoholic beverage before it became hot chocolate. It wasn’t until the 1800s that chocolate took on the solid form people know today as chocolate bars.

The Aztec ruler Montezuma II drank gallons of chocolate for its energetic and aphrodisiac effects. He would consume golden goblets of the bittersweet goodness before his romantic nights. He claimed that it made his tongue dance and his pulse quicken.

In the early 16th century, the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, conquered the Aztecs. He was the first to succeed in bringing the exotic drink and the equipment to Spain, and making it work. When he did, the popularity of chocolate exploded throughout Europe.

In 1606, Italy established its own chocolate.

In 1615, chocolate was introduced to France “at the nuptial ceremony of Louis XII and Anna of Austria in Bayonne.”

In 1646, chocolate reached Germany.

In the 1650s, England received chocolate from France.

New York scientists discovered in the 1980s that chocolate contained Phenylenthylamine, or PEA, which tells the brain to release dopamine.

Drexel University’s Jennifer Nasser led the study of electroretinography, which tests neurotransmitter dopamine in the retina. The study revealed that: “Dopamine is associated with a variety of pleasure-related effects in the brain, including the expectation of reward. In the eye’s retina, dopamine is released when the optical nerve activates in response to light exposure.”

When Nasser and her team placed a piece of chocolate into a participant’s mouth, “electrical signals in the retina spike(d) high in response to a flash of light … The increase was as great as that seen when participants had received the stimulant drug methylphenidate to induce a strong dopamine response.”

The evolution of chocolate continues to this day. Many people experiment with both the chocolate bar and the drink: spice it up, rich it up, or sweeten it up, whatever suits their taste. The flavour profile is endless.

Come Valentine’s Day, pick up a nice treat and do not forget to share it on this lovely day.

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