Casanova, a legend among men for his sexual appetites, slurped fifty raw oysters every morning for breakfast--often while splashing about with a comely ladyfriend in his custom built bathtub for two. That oysters have been a favorite American snack since prehistoric times is evidenced by a midden in Maine estimated to contain seven million bushels of spent shells. Some wags claim that the Atlantic Coast's oyster abundance was the main reason our original thirteen colonies succeeded.
While every region of the world has a favorite assortment of aphrodisiac delights, the Americas provided what just might be Love Potion #9. Chocolate. Aztecs believed it was given to the first man by the gods to console him for having to exist as a mere mortal. Chocolate drinks were part of all ceremonies honoring the love goddess Xochiquetzal, and a handful of cocoa beans bought a night's pleasure in Mayan brothels.
Montezuma swigged fifty glasses of chocolate a day, and gulped down one or two extra for good measure before any amorous encounter. He served great golden goblets of the elixir to Cortez, and convinced El Conquistador that the bitter brew was the nectar of the gods. Back home in Spain, the royal court politely sipped Cortez' new beverage solely in respect for his conquests until a certain duchess added milk, cinnamon and vanilla to the mix, heated it and whipped it into a froth. Chocoholism was born overnight.
From Spain's court, a chocolate craze spread through Europe like wildfire. The Church condemned this hot, sweet, spicy drink as "immoral and provocative," and clergy were prohibited from drinking it. Every gourmet experimented with it, however, and every famous lover testified to its potent aphrodisiac effects. Casanova was so enamored of chocolate that he employed it as a seductive substance more frequently than anything except champagne.
The first real chocolate genius was Cesar Gabriel Choiseul, duc de Praslin and Secretary of the Navy under Louis XV of France. Owner of several large plantations in Haiti, Monsieur Choiseul cooked some of his sugar cane to caramel, poured it over a portion of his cashew crop, let it harden, and smashed the brittle to powdered bits. Voila! He had invented The Praline. Not content with this heavenly confection, Choiseul stirred the praline bits into more of his home-grown goodies--melted chocolate flavored with vanilla and rum. Then he rolled the mixture into little balls and dusted them with sugar, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Voila again! He had invented The Truffle. Chocoholics went nuts.
Tracking chocolate's food value has not been easy. Everywhere it is called an aphrodisiac, but nowhere could I discover why. Finally I turned to the US Department of Agriculture's Composition of Foods and learned that approximately 3 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (my favorite) contains 477 calories and 284 mg phosphorous. That's eight times the calories (food energy) and twice the phosphorous of oysters. In a letter sent to the Spanish court, Cortez wrote, "A cup of this precious beverage permits a man to walk an entire day without food." No wonder Montezuma swore by chocolate. Imagine what it did for his nights.