When a piece of chocolate melts on your tongue, a chain of chemical reactions begin. From your taste buds, through your veins, to the brain, and of course, the heart, chocolate creates a sense of elation that perhaps no other individual food can match. Eating chocolate has been likened to falling in love, and giving chocolate has become a traditional gesture of love and appreciation. As cartoonist Charles M. Schulz famously said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Chocolate is tasty, and like all highly palatable foods, it stimulates “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin. Chemical compounds on your taste bud’s receptors send the good news directly to the pleasure centers of the brain, such as the nucleus accumbens. But chocolate isn’t just tasty, it’s special. Pizza is delicious, but who gifts their loved ones a pizza when celebrating Valentine’s Day?
What separates a bar of chocolate from other highly celebrated and palatable foods is a harmonious trio of chemicals innate to the cacao bean: theobromine, phenylethylamine, and anandamide. These three compounds work together to create an experience that is perhaps something like that blissful feeling of love.
The flavor itself generates pleasure first, but as chocolate digests, theobromine is released, widening the blood vessels, making the heart pump faster and increasing blood flow to the brain. Theobromine is an alkaloid, like caffeine. The stimulatory nature of chocolate is largely attributed to this chemical, hence its name, which is a direct reference to the Theobroma cacao tree, meaning “food of gods”.
While theobromine provides the physical stimulation, phenylethylamine stimulates the central nervous system to release dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters which increase alertness and concentration.Phenylethylamine helps draw you into the moment, allowing you to taste all the nuances and complexity of the cacao bean and become fully present to your uplifting feelings. Microbial fermentation increases levels of phenylethyalmine, which may explain why chocolate is such a potent source of the compound, since cacao beans are fermented prior to drying, roasting (or not roasting :-)), and being ground into chocolate.
Completing our trio of feel good compounds is anandamide. Named after the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning “bliss”, anandamide is an endogenous lipid (naturally present in humans, but also cacao beans) which resembles marijuana’s THC in action, increasing feelings of relaxation, satisfaction, and happiness.
These individual components of the cacao bean all come together for one delicious, seemingly symbiotic experience, and perhaps explains how our cultural association with chocolate and love has formed. But all these natural compounds wouldn’t be worth much if chocolate didn’t taste good! We’re pretty sure there is something extra special about the deep cherry notes of our Vanilla Roobios bar, the caramelized pecan crunch of Maple & Nibs, and luxurious melt of our bean-to-bar truffles. And they say coffee is world’s most popular legal drug…