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Word Wisdom: Chocolate

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

As I write this column, I am finishing up some of the Christmas chocolates I received in my stocking from Santa. One of my favourites is chocolate covered ginger. Chocolates are often given as gifts for various occasions. A quick search on the internet reveals many potential benefits of chocolate: improved cognitive performance, linked to lower risk of stroke, healthy skin, and as a bonus, consuming chocolate makes you feel better. Even the Mayo Clinic states that chocolate appears to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. Studies indicate that dark chocolate is more useful for your health than milk chocolate. Unfortunately, most commercial chocolate has ingredients that also add high amounts of fat, sugar, and calories.

The word “chocolate” entered the English language from Spain. The Spanish “chocolate” derives from Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) in central Mexico. Chocolatl, an alteration of chikolatl, comes from a combination of chikolli (meaning hook) and atl (meaning water). This describes the beater used to make chocolate from cacao beans and water. The word “chocolate” in the English language dates circa 1604 to describe a beverage made by mixing ground roasted cacao beans with water. Cacao is a fatty seed of a South American evergreen tree found in pods holding 30-50 beans in each. 

In the distant past chocolate was a revered bitter tasting beverage which provided a caffeinated kick, whether hot or cold. Evidence has been found from around 1500 BC. in Central and South America, of the beverage version, not a sweet treat. In Mayan societies chocolate was often served at every meal. It was a thick frothy drink mixed with chili peppers or honey. The Aztecs even used cacao beans as currency. Spain began importing cacao beans in 1585. Eventually Europeans added cane sugar, cinnamon, and other spices to flavour up the bitter beverage.

In 1828 Coenraad van Houten discovered a way to treat cacao beans with alkaline salts to make powered chocolate, called “Dutch cocoa.” J.S. Fry created the chocolate bar in 1847 from a paste of sugar, chocolate liquor, and cocoa butter. In 1876 Daniel Peter added dried milk powder to the mixture to create Swiss milk chocolate. Yet the product was still hard to chew. It wasn’t until 1879 when Rudolf Lindt aerated the chocolate mixture giving it a melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

A study in 1966 showed that chocolate caused the release of endorphins in the brain making people feel happy. Chocolate does contain several compounds associated with mood-lifting chemicals in the brain. One is phenylethylamine, a natural antidepressant and one of the chemicals your brain produces as you fall in love. Tryptophan, an amino acid present in small quantities in chocolate, is linked to the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. But most of these compounds are present only in small quantities in chocolate, and scientists say that they are probably almost entirely digested before they reach the brain. It may instead be the experience of eating chocolate, and satisfying a food craving, that releases endorphins and ‘happy feelings’ more than the content of the chocolate itself.

The Washington Post published an article, “Why chocolate really is the secret to happiness” by Simon Cotton in 2014. He wrote, “The fatty triglycerides in cocoa butter can stack together in six different ways, each resulting in a different melting point. Only one of these forms has the right melting point of about 34 degrees, so that it ‘melts in your mouth, not in your hand.’ Getting the chocolate to crystallize to give this form is the product of very careful chocolate engineering.” Perhaps the happiness factor is all about the pleasure of the melt-in-your-mouth experience.

As this Covid pandemic keeps going on and on and on, we all need a little happiness to deal with rules and restrictions and regulations that are always changing. Why not have a bit of chocolate?

Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/  He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.