Chocolate: Exhibit opens February 10

Mixtec Marriage of Lord Eight Deer and Lady Thirteen Serpent

The sharing of chocolate is a common theme in pre-Columbian art. In this Mixtec image, Lord Eight Deer and Lady Thirteen Serpent exchange a cup of chocolate on the occasion of their marriage.

For centuries chocolate has been treasured not only for its amazing and delightful taste, but also for its healthful benefits.

The first historical evidence for dietary uses of chocolate dates back more than 3000 years. The native peoples of Mesoamerica– among them the Inca, the Maya and the Aztec– believed that cocoa was a gift from the gods. From the earliest days, chocolate (in Nahuatl, xocolatl) was seen as a medium of divine communication.  Goblets of chocolate appear frequently in pre-Columbian art and legend, in stories involving figures both divine and human.

The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez was the first European to taste chocolate– possibly because he was mistaken for a god by the Aztec emperor Montezuma.  In 1519, Cortez reported that the beverage the Aztecs concocted from fruit of the cocoa tree was believed by Montezuma to be a “divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.”  Also, “a cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.”

Chocolate has been gathering extravagant claims and accolades of one kind or another ever since.

Recently, scientific studies of the health benefits of chocolate , and specifically of  cocoa, which is the essential ingredient in chocolate, have focused on the actions of two flavonoids, catechin and epicatechin.  Both have protective antioxidant properties and are found in tea and many fruits, including apricots, cherries, peaches, blackberries and apples.  However, they occur in extravagantly high levels in cocoa.  As it turns out, chocolate — or more precisely cocoa– may actually be very good for your heart, and for other things as well.

At least that’s what some people are saying…

Contemplate the many uses of chocolate while visiting our exhibit, Not Just Another Love Story, in the Medical School Lecture Hall Commons beginning February 10.  Then, stop by the Circulation Desk on Valentine’s Day.  Chocolate will be enjoyed.

Susan Hunnicutt, Special Projects Librarian

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