A taste for chocolate spread throughout Europe due in large part to bedroom politics. Monarchs looking to extend their power bases or foster peaceful international relationships often arranged marriages between their children. Thanks to its massive holdings in the Americas and the might of its armada, Spain's princesses were popular bridal choices. As soon as the ladies set foot in their new homes, their chocolate pots were among the first pieces of household equipment to be unpacked.
The New World beverage was as prized for its medicinal value as its exotic taste. Since classical Greece, physicians had believed the body was composed of four "humours" which must be balanced for good health. Substances arbitrarily classified as hot and cold, wet and dry were employed as curatives. Because chocolate was considered "hot" and vanilla "cold," the combination was as good for cooling fevers as it was for warming the body. Chocolate was also considered a nourishing food, a cure for melancholy, an energy enhancer, and a sexual stimulant.
Inspired by tchocoatl's stellar attributes, the French physician Joseph Bachot wrote "chocolate is an invention so noble it should be the nourishment of the gods." In 1737 Carl Linnaeus published Systema Naturae, the model for all scientific classification to this day, and immortalized chocolate's divine connection by naming it Theobroma or God's Food.
It is now well known that chocolate is nutritious due to its sugar and fat content which provide rapidly absorbable sources of both stimulant and sustained energy. More importantly, the results of a study conducted in 1995 at the Department of Viticulture and Enology, University of California Davis have revealed that chocolate contains chemical substances that actually do affect the emotions.
Chocolate is laden with proteins that carry the amino acid phenyethylamine. When triggered by emotion phenyethylamine converts into the neurohormone PEA that stimulates the release of endorphins, the brain chemical responsible for euphoria and mood elevation. Large amounts of magnesium add to the sensation of wellbeing, while serotonin and tyramine provide a calming effect. Another substance, theobromine, lifts depression. Belonging to a plant-based stimulant group called methylxanthines whose best known member is caffeine, theobromine's physical effects include increased alertness and an enhanced ability to experience pleasure, plus decreased fatigue and a diminished sensation of stress.
It is no wonder then that once chocolate reached Europe its popularity spread like wildfire. The Church condemned this hot, sweet drink as immoral and provocative, and clergy were prohibited from drinking it. Every gourmet experimented with it, however, and lovers testified to its potent aphrodisiac effects. Casanova was so enamored of chocolate that he employed it in his seductive scenarios more frequently than anything except champagne.