Chocolate and Health - The Invective No One Listened To

Publication Year: 
1989

Italian consumers and the medical community in the middle of the seventeenth century were not much moved by Francesco Redi's invective: 'Chocolate's not good for you/ neither is tea/ you'll never get medicine/ like that from me.' Several decades later, a Doctor Giovanni Dalla Bona in 'Dell'uso e dell'abuso del caffe con aggiunte, massime attorno alla cioccolata ed ai rosolii' ('On the uses and abuses of coffee and with the addiction of rules about chocolate and German measles'), published in Liborno in 1762, spelled out, 'Not only is chocolate a delicious beverage but it also has medicinal properties... If one has a mild fever, and the temperament is phlegmatic, the humour rare, and one is approaching the age of senility, drink chocolate with a bit of vanilla, but if the temperament is bilious and sanguine, drink it without vanilla If the humour is sour and weak, make the drink with cocoa alone, with no cinnamon and only a little sugar'.

Scarcely a year later, in 1763, Giuseppe Parini, ignoring the medicinal virtues of this delicious drink and seeing it instead as a symbol of the life of leisure enjoyed by the nobility, invited the young people of the Giorno to 'choose brown chocolate, given to you as a tribute by the Guatamaltecan and the Caribbean, who wear barbarian feathers in their hair'.

Puritan America also added its voice to the chorus of praises, with the president himself, Thomas Jefferson, declaring chocolate healthy and nutritious. To be completely accurate however one should mention that he was preceded a century earlier by a W. Hughes who wrote in the American Physician in 1672 '...it is a tranquillizer, and excellent for relieving the pain of gout... it marvellously refreshes tired limbs'. He also recommends that travellers and hunters prepare some cocoa paste and sugar tablets that they can dissolve in boiling water when they need them.

Praise from the Greatest Gastronomist
In the last century, chocolate's felicitous history continued. 'Qu'est-ce que c'est que la santé? C'est du chocolat, declared Brillat-Savarin and, not content with that, he pointed out in The Philosophy of Taste that 'any one who has drunk too much from the cup of pleasure, who has spent a good part of their time at the table when they should have been sleeping, who notes that their brain is temporarily not working, who finds the air too damp and the atmosphere dificult to tolerate, who is tormented by some fixed idea limiting their freedom of thought, that person should drink a good pint of ambered chocolate'. By then, the subject was not limited to learned disquisitions, but included practical applications. In 1830, the chocolate maker and pharmacist Debauve offered the public an anti-spasmodic chocolate with orange blossom, one for 'delicate constitutions' with almond milk, and another for the 'afflicted' which was a tonic with orchid bulb - goodness only knows what that tasted like!

Text from pp. 77-78, Chocolate, by Schiaffino, Mariarosa, 1989
Image from: http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub345/item1572.html

history, Philippe, Sylvestre, Dufour ,Chocolate, 17th century
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