The history of popular culture: 11 Chocolate

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"Who knows what secrets are hidden in the Black Magic box?" Easy. A hazelnut cluster, that irritating ginger one, and the hard caramels that are left when all the others have been eaten. But then, that is to treat chocolate as any old high calorie, high fat caffeine-rich food, when a close study of popular culture tells us chocolate, like sex, is a sweet sweet mystery.

I mean, nobody smears their body with bloater paste and asks their partner to lick it off. "Only the crumbliest, flakiest, haddock fillet...?" I think not. And when was the last time you gave cheese on Valentine's Day? But chocolate. You would climb mountains, ford streams, battle raging torrents, if the lady said she loved Milk Tray.

And why not? There are perfectly sound, if not entirely proven, chemical reasons to consider chocolate the lovers' friend. For a start, it does provide a feelgood factor. It gives an immediate blood-sugar fix while its high caffeine levels (a 4oz bar contains more caffeine than a cup of coffee) will ensure the object of your affection at least stays awake. Then there is the stuff with the long names. Chocolate is said to boost serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, something I am sure helps those witty exchanges so vital in the early stages of a relationship. And as for Phenylethylamine, which occurs naturally in the brain and is allegedly released at times of emotional arousal, chocolate produces so much I'm surprised they let the Milky Bar Kid near it.

It is possible to be cynical, and place all these alleged chemical reactions in the same bag as Colonel Sanders' unique blend of herbs and spices or Coca-Cola's secret ingredient, but there is definitely something going on with chocolate. Even before your lover is dosed up to the eyeballs with all those chemicals, the air is heavy with powerful cultural messages stemming from childhood associations with comfort or reward.

Comfort especially for those of us who grew up before the mid-60s, when chocolate first discovered its sex appeal. In those days, chocolate was sold very much on goodness and nourishmnent. There was a pint and a half of full cream dairy milk in it, for goodness sake, it helped you work, rest, and play, it made the Milky Bar Kid tough and strong and quick on the draw.

In Enid Blyton adventure books, you could be sure that when the Famous Five were trapped in a labyrinth of secret underground passages, one of them would produce a half-melted bar.

Then came the Flake advert, in which the phallic connections were inescapable even for those with only a passing acquaintance with the dark world of semiotics. The sexing of chocolate was completed, in my school playground at least, by the stories, scarcely credible to our young minds, of the misuse of Mars Bars by the Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull.

The irony is that chocolate was developed by people whose connection with sex is no more than peripheral, like Quakers and the Swiss. Rodolphe Lindt in Switzerland patented a mixture in 1880 which used cocoa butter to give chocolate that melt-in-the-mouth (not in the hand) texture, while the Cadbury and Fry families in Britain started mass producing it for the first time around the turn of the century. The current most popular chocolate is Kit-Kat, with Mars Bars at No 2, but the fastest growth sector is in so-called premium chocolates. These tend to be richer in cocoa solids than cheaper products, with a higher level of endorphin-related activity, one assumes.

The good news should you be taking advantage of this mysterious flow of chemicals is that your parents were wrong. There is no evidence eating chocolate causes acne. You can proceed, if not with a clear conscience, with a clear skin.