Aphrodisiac? Health Food?? Addictive???

A diva savors chocolate
Photograph of a negligee-clad actress Jean Harlowe dipping into a box of chocolates from "The Book of Chocolate," by Nathalie Bailleux and Jeanne Bourin. Paris: Flammarion Press.

Chocolate lovers feel passionate about chocolate, but does chocolate create passion? The question of whether it is an aphrodisiac is an old one, beginning with Spanish observations that Montezuma drank copious amounts of it before a visit to his harem. Casanova preferred chocolate to champagne.

Chocolate does contain small amounts of several psychoactive substances that act as stimulants and mood elevators. There is also the pleasurable sensation caused by the fact that this luscious substance melts at mouth temperature. And isn’t a heart-shaped box of chocolates the quintessentially romantic Valentine’s gift?

All that researchers can tell us is that although eating chocolate is undeniably gratifying, there is no scientific proof that it is either an aphrodisiac or addictive. And as for the recently touted health benefits of chocolate? There have been some intriguing discoveries regarding high blood pressure and chocolate’s antioxidant properties but no doctor or nutritionist is prescribing candy bars as health food.