Chocolate: how much is too much?

And now for my Easter-themed post, which in an odd way “flows” from my reading of Csikzsentmihalyi’s work. via Chocolate: how much is too much? Sadly, not much.

Not only did the chocolate eaters have a 39 per cent lower risk of heart attack or stroke, they had lower blood pressure.

Research shows that eating chocolate can have health benefits,  and these are presumed to be due to the antioxidants in chocolate. Dark chocolate has more antioxidants than milk chocolate and is therefore better for you. And portion size is important … the emphasis is on input and output, rather than on the motivations for eating chocolate. Another distinguishing factor between eating dark chocolate and milk chocolate is that dark chocolate is generally better quality and more expensive (due to the higher ratio of cocoa product) – people who eat dark chocolate are perhaps more likely to be eating it for the delightful taste sensation which they savour rather than quaffing it in large quantities for the “comfort factor”. Perhaps it is the mindset of delighting in pleasurable food and savouring each morsel (taking the time to enjoy the moment without obsessing about cost and calories) that is more important in lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating the requisite portion of dark chocolate with a red wine chaser after a salad of pear, rocquet, blue cheese and almonds all with the appropriate balance of anti-oxidant, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients may not have any of the health benefits of selecting exactly the same food combination from the sheer pleasure of the visual presentation, aroma and taste sensation (including the anticipatory pleasure from preparing the food to achieve this outcome). It may be that it is the ability to find pleasure in each aspect of daily life that mitigates against the risk of heart attack and stroke, rather than the precise quantity of each nutrient that we ingest.

Similarly, the art of drawing free-form fine pictures with the steamed milk of a cafe latte (latte art) requires the crema of the coffee to be perfect and the consistency of the milk foam to be similarly perfect- i.e. requires a level of excellence  in the making of the coffee, that then allows the barista to “play creatively” in announcing this perfection – a joyous expression of quality assurance. And yet a misguided focus on outcome gives us production lines with automatic espresso shots, thermometers in the milk, and toothpicks to draw pictures. The end result is pretty pictures, and perhaps even a modicum of “quality assurance” (or repeatability), but the creative joy for the barista and the discipline required to achieve mastery of coffee making has been lost.

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