Luscious Action

Katrina Wilber

Parents say it’ll give us acne. Magazines tell us it has a marvelous effect on women. It apparently helped the Aztec Emperor Montezuma with his, ahem, bedroom antics with his 200 wives.

Now, approximately 500 years later, it’s turned into a $60 billion-dollar-a-year industry.

Not bad for a bean.

Chocolate, that tantalizing, product of cacao beans, sugar and a variety of other ingredients, is always popular. But right now, smack in the middle of the Valentine’s Day shopping rush, chocolate hype is at its annual high. Boxes filled with enough chocolate to satisfy even a dozen teenage girls in the throes of PMS, line store shelves in homage to this “elixir of the gods.”

Chocolate is better than sex because the word “commitment” doesn’t scare it.

More than 35 million boxes of that marvelous folk aphrodisiac will be sold this year, and that’s not counting bags of chocolate or the chocolate roses some ingenious company dreamed up.

You can have chocolate any time of the month.

And, of course, there are those persistent rumors of chocolate’s amorous properties. Chocolate releases endorphins, those wonderful little peptides that alter emotions. Apparently, that release of endorphins contributes to the release of inhibitions, too.

You can have chocolate on top of your desk at work without upsetting your co-workers.

An internet search for “sex and chocolate” brings up more than 5,000 hits. Sex and Chocolate parties are everywhere, including universities. Innumerable cookbooks are dedicated to chocolate, as well as things to do with chocolate outside the kitchen.

With chocolate, size doesn’t matter.

Even though chocolate has long been thought to have the same effects as sex, not everyone falls for that.

Ed Enstrom, the man behind the chocolates counter at Marshall Field’s, is one of the naysayers.

“I’m pretty sure it’s an urban legend,” he said. “Besides, there’s an old saying that goes, ‘Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.’ “

You can make chocolate last as long as you want it to.

Indulging a sweet tooth and a libido at the same time sounds great, though, doesn’t it?

Enstrom may be in the minority that hasn’t bought the idea of chocolate as an aphrodisiac, but there’s research to back him up.

Chocolate satisfies even after it’s gone soft.

It’s true that there’s the stimulant phenylethylamine, a “love chemical,” in chocolate, but the minute dosage suggests that it’s metabolized before it can get to work. An abnormally large dose can cause stereotypical behavior along the lines of amphetamines, but you’d have to eat an enormous amount of chocolate for it to take effect.

Good chocolate is easy to find.

Explaining the female craving for chocolate is somewhat easier. Magnesium deficiency intensifies PMS, so chocolate, a magnesium-rich food, helps alleviate PMS. Women also have high levels of progesterone around this time, and cravings for fatty foods ensue. How convenient that chocolate can solve both problems.

When you have chocolate, it doesn’t keep your neighbors awake.

Chocolate has been inextricably linked to acne, but numerous studies have shown that small amounts of chocolate in a healthy diet won’t cause pimples, let alone full-blown acne.

You don’t have to fake it with chocolate.

The lure of chocolate goes back more than five centuries. The Aztecs used cacao beans to make a stimulatory beverage, and only those of high esteem could enjoy the luxury of chocolate.

You’re never too old for chocolate.

With all these theories swirling around like the chocolate in a marble cake, major institutions study chocolate in its scientific form instead of its sexual form. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, has a laboratory devoted entirely to Chocolate Science.

Makes you wonder what they use the leftover chocolate for.

You can even have chocolate in front of your mother.

Chocolate has more than 300 substances in it, including little bits of caffeine and the stimulant theobromine, which are said to cause that so-called “chocolate high.”

You can safely have chocolate while driving.

It’s such a controversial food: healthy versus unhealthy, aphrodisiac versus acne-causer.

From ancient civilizations to modern corporations, chocolate has been a source of controversy, delight and intrigue.

Besides, you can GET chocolate.