I love chocolate. Let’s get that out there and if you read this blog then you know it’s something I write about occasionally. There is something about chocolate that keeps us, (well certainly me), to go back for more. For some people including myself, it is a food group. Last night at the Royal Institution of Australia, (RiAus), I attended the start of their Seven Deadly Sins series, Gluttony: The Lure of Chocolate. There are six more sessions to follow in the next couple of months.
Brendan Somerville, the chief taster of chocolate maker Haigh’s kickstarted things with the history of chocolate. The Aztecs were the first to harvest cocoa beans and even used them as currency. Following the discovery of the Americas, chocolate made its way to Europe as a drink mixed with maize flour, chilli and spices. It was more of a savoury drink than the sweet hot chocolate drink that we know today and it was called the drink of pigs. With developments in technology and improvements to the processing and cooking of chocolate, it wasn’t long before a palatable drink was created.
Brendan guided the audience in a tasting from the nibs of roasted cocoa beans, chocolate liquor and through to chocolate. He also passed around samples of raw cocoa beans for the audience to have a look at. They don’t look like much. They have the appearance of shrivelled almonds and do not look at all appealing. At least that’s what I thought. I was sitting next to Will who decided to pop one in his mouth.
“It doesn’t have a developed taste of chocolate. There is a tart tangy taste to it.” he said of the cocoa bean.
Brendan also mentioned that a riot began after a bishop banned chocolate. I looked up the story when I got home and lo and behold, it was true. I would probably start a small riot if chocolate was banned today too. The church in Europe disapproved of chocolate and there were numerous attempts to ban it. A bishop in the Spanish town of Chiapa Real did this. He was especially irked by the local women in the church asking their maids to bring them chocolate during Mass. The bishop issued a ban in an effort to stop this and a riot began. Swords were even drawn in that church. This situation was resolved when the bishop suddenly and mysteriously died. The general opinion was that he drunk a cup of hot chocolate that had been poisoned.
People will do anything to satisfy their craving for chocolate. For most people the occasional piece of chocolate is an enjoyment but for some, the lure is irresistible and the overwhelming desire is never satisfied. Dr Robyn Vast, a Postdoctoral Fellow at CSIRO Food and Nutritional Sciences took the audience through the tools that people use to control food cravings and a recent study she performed on 110 self-identified chocolate addicts. These are people who cannot go without chocolate and need to eat it.
The group of 110 volunteers were divided into three groups and given a bag of chocolate for a week. The idea of the study was to see how much of that chocolate remained at the end of the week when people brought them back for weighing. Imagine being given a whole bag of free chocolate for a week and being told not to eat it. Could you do it?
Would you be able to go about your daily activities and ignore a bag of free chocolate? What would you do? Would you place the bag somewhere out of sight and possibly even difficult to get to and distract yourself? Or perhaps use sheer willpower and control the inner voice telling you that one piece wouldn’t hurt. Or perhaps to try a combination of these methods?
Well one group of volunteers of the study were left to their own devices to try to not eat any of the chocolate in the bag. The second group of volunteers were taught techniques to control their chocolate cravings. The third group was told to accept their cravings as part of who they are and to recognise their mind as a separate entity so that they could identify unhelpful thoughts and to ignore them. Of the thoughts that we have, somewhere between 80-90% of them are negative. It isn’t to say that we are all negative and pessimistic people. That is that thoughts that do not help with our main objective especially when the goal is a difficult one.
The success rates of the three groups went like this:
- No intervention: 43%
- Control Based Techniques: 56%
- Acceptance Based Techniques: 81%
Even with no intervention, people were able to resist their urge to eat chocolate. The most successful group was the one that had been taught to accept their cravings and to identify their mind as an entity producing thoughts. This is the cognitive defusion theory.
Dr Vast finished her talk by taking the audience on a tasting of a Haigh’s milk chocolate button. She told us to observe the appearance of the chocolate and to smell it before placing it in our mouths and letting it melt before biting it. And then to notice how it travelled down the back of our throats towards our stomachs. It was a reminder to savour our experiences and enjoy them. This can reduce the amount of chocolate or indeed any other food that you may have a tendency to consume a lot of.