Why do we love chocolate so much?

So, what is it about Theobroma cacao that entices so many of us? And what similarities does chocolate have with other foods that we simply cannot resist?

It may appear straightforward: we like chocolate because it tastes good. But there’s more to it than that, and it has to do with a fat/carbohydrate balance that is established from the beginning of our lives.

You adore chocolate and can’t stop eating it until it’s all gone. One, or even a few, squares is never enough.

So, what is it about Theobroma cacao that entices so many of us? And what similarities does chocolate have with other foods that we simply cannot resist?

Sugar plus fat

What else does chocolate have going for it, apart from sweetness?

Well, it also has a creamy viscosity. When you take it out of its wrapper and put a bit in your mouth without biting, you will notice that it rapidly melts on your tongue, leaving a lingering sensation of smoothness.

Special touch receptors on our tongues detect this textural change, which then stimulates feelings of pleasure.

But the thing that really transformed cocoa from a bitter and watery drink into the snack we adore today was the addition of sugar and fat.

The addition of just the right amount of each is crucial to our enjoyment of chocolate. Look at the side of a packet of milk chocolate and you will see that it normally contains roughly 20-25% fat and 40-50% sugar.

Such high levels of sugar and fat are rarely found in nature, or at least not together.

You can get lots of natural sugars from fruit and roots, and there is plenty of fat to be found in nuts or a tasty chunk of salmon, but one of the few places where you will find both together is in milk.

Human breast milk is particularly rich in natural sugars, mainly lactose. Roughly 4% of human breast milk is fat, while about 8% is made up of sugars. Formula milk, which is fed to babies, contains a similar ratio of fats to sugars.

This ratio, 1 gram of fat to 2 grams of sugar, is the same ratio of fat to sugar that you find in milk chocolate. And in biscuits, doughnuts and ice cream. In fact, this particular ratio is reflected in many of the foods that we find hard to resist.

So, why do I love chocolate? For a whole host of reasons. But it may also be that I, and chocoholics like me, are trying to recapture the taste and sense of closeness we got from the first food we ever sampled: human breast milk.

Chocolate composition

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which have been grown and consumed in the Americas for thousands of years.

The Mayans and the Aztecs made a drink out of cocoa beans called xocolatl, which means “bitter water”. That is because, in its raw form – the bean – cocoa is intensely bitter.

To get at the beans, you first have to crack open the thick husk of the cocoa pod, releasing a pulp that has an intense tropical flavour that is halfway between lemonade and a custard apple. Known as baba de cacao, it’s sweet, acidic and very sticky.

The beans and pulp are then sweated and allowed to ferment for several days before being dried and roasted.

Roasting releases a range of chemical compounds including 3-methylbutanoic acid, which on its own has a sweaty and rancid odour, and dimethyl trisulfide, the smell of overcooked cabbage.

The combination of these and other aroma molecules creates a unique chemical signature that our brains love.

But the rich, chocolatey smells and the happy memories of youth that those smells provoke are just part of chocolate’s attraction.

Chocolate contains a number of interesting psychoactive chemicals. These include anandamide, a neurotransmitter whose name comes from the Sanskrit ananda, meaning “joy, bliss, delight”. Anandamide stimulates the brain in much the same way that cannabis does.

It also contains tyramine and phenylethylamine, both of which have similar effects to amphetamines.

Finally, if you look hard enough, you will find small traces of theobromine and caffeine, both of which are well-known stimulants.

For a while, some food scientists got very excited about these discoveries but, to be honest, although chocolate contains these substances, we now know they are only there in trace amounts.

Your brain is not going to get much of a chemical rush from eating a few squares. Nonetheless, they may play a small part in seducing our senses.

Asaase Radio 99.5 broadcasts on radio via 99.5 in Accra, 98.5 in Kumasi, 99.7 in Tamale, 100.3 in Cape Coast and on our affiliates Bawku FM 101.5 in Bawku, Beats FM 99.9 in Bimbilla, Somua FM 89.9 in Gushegu, Stone City 90.7 in Ho, Mining City 89.5 in Tarkwa and Wale FM 106.9 in Walewale
Tune in or log on to broadcasts 
online:, Sound Garden and TuneIn
Follow us on Twitter: @asaaseradio995
Live streaming: Also on YouTube: Asaase Radio Official.
Join the conversation. Call: 020 000 9951 or 059 415 7777. Or WhatsApp: 020 000 0995.


Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected