Making hearts pound
What can set the heart pounding, give you a rush of positive feelings, and make you want to come back for more, again and again?
Chocolate, of course; the world’s most widely and frequently craved food. But why? Fortunately, scientists have undertaken to answer this question, and to identify exactly what accounts for its enduring and powerful appeal.
British neuropsychologist David Lewis studied chocolate’s impact by focusing on couples in romantic relationships. He found that while kissing set their hearts pounding, chocolate did too. In fact, chocolate melting in a person’s mouth can cause a more intense and longer-lasting heart-pounding “buzz” than kissing.
The study also found that as chocolate started melting in the mouth, all regions of the brain received a boost far more intense and longer lasting than the excitement observed with kissing.
Chocolate also has mood-enhancing properties, which are not just in your imagination. Chocolate has the highest concentration in any food of phenylethylamine, a chemical that triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates. It also contains theobromine, a mild stimulant. And the pleasurable experience of eating chocolate can boost the brain's production of dopamine and serotonin, which also contribute to feelings of well-being.
Chocolate contains more than 600 flavor compounds, and “it offers a complex sensory experience and one not easily duplicated,” said Jacob (Jake) Lahne, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science at Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sports Management.
The complex fermentation, drying and roasting process used to make cocoa butter and cocoa powder blends molecules together and gives rise to its unique aroma and flavor. “So much of what we taste and what appeals to us is actually smell,” Lahne says.