A passion for chocolate
Published Friday February 12th, 2010
Valentine’s Day, on any other day, few can resist the sweet treat
By Meg Edwards
Times & Transcript Staff
One of the most well-known symbols of Valentine’s Day is the red, heart-shaped box of chocolates signifying a gift of indulgence and pleasure.
While there’s little scientific proof that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, it’s long been associated with love. But chocolate is more than just a sweet treat. Throughout history it has been a commodity that has played a role in politics and finances.
Even today, the sweet substance has been forced into popular debate after David Ganong’s family business, Ganong Brothers Ltd., a Canadian confection company founded in 1873, was threatened with a boycott after Ganong presented the findings of a government appointed expert panel that endorsed the proposed NB Power sale to Hydro-Quebec.
But this is old hat for the cacao bean. The highly valued bean has often figured in political unrest.
It was considered a ‘food of the gods’ by the Mayans and small cups of a cold bitter drink made from the beans, called ‘xocoatl,’ were doled out to the leaders and warriors of their society as a ‘health elixir,’ stimulant and aphrodisiac.
At one time the cacao bean was hard currency with wars fought and slaves bought and sold on its value. Today, many chocolate connoisseurs make a special effort to buy Fair Trade chocolate in order to avoid supporting plantations that use child labor.
But to return to the simple unadulterated pleasure of consuming chocolate, we love what we love, and if the Aztecs and Mayans thought it was a magic elixir, who are we to question that?
Chocolate has long been connected with love and, yes, sex. While there is no scientific proof it works as an aphrodisiac, it does contain theobromide which produces a feeling of well-being. It is also a “treat,” which we enjoy and relax with, certainly elements of romantic evening.
Today’s focus on the health benefits of the cacao bean often revive the ancient civilizations’ admiration of its stimulating qualities. In the glory days of Mad Men-style advertising, the luxury of chocolate sold itself but, nowadays, the cacao bean has been resurrected as a supplement that can clear your head and lower your blood pressure.
Much of the vaunted health benefits from chocolate are more myth than reality. Cocoa solids do contain alkaloids that are connected to serotonin levels in the brain, so some argue that chocolate does make you happy. But a look at the actual data collected by sober scientists and you can see how some of the information may have been ‘fudged.’
Sure there is magnesium in chocolate, but there is also copper, maybe too much copper! And that happy feeling in your heart and mind, just may be the temporary effects of a sugar high.
But those of us addicted to the bean will continue to maintain the health benefits. Just like a glass of red wine, dark chocolate in moderation must be good for us, right?
Bryana Ganong, the vice-president of marketing and quality assurance, comes from a long line of chocolate lovers — and, appropriately, was born on Valentine’s Day — but stresses that chocolate is good only in moderation. As a fifth generation Ganong working in the family business, Bryana remembers when her Great Uncle Whidden was known for eating a pound of chocolate a day.
“We have many generations who have loved chocolate,” she says. ” My great-grandfather used to eat two pounds of chocolate every day! I would say, my brother and I, we eat chocolate every day, but it is more in moderation along with a balanced lifestyle.”
Bryana says that although Ganong makes other products, “chocolate is still the biggest part of our business and it is one of those affordable luxuries. You don’t always have to eat a whole pound; you can have a few pieces and give yourself a treat. It is a comfort food for most of us.”
For Ginette Ahier, a self-made ‘chocolatier,’ chocolate went from a hobby to a home-based business. She suggests that we crave chocolate because it is good for us.
Ginette says she became fascinated with chocolate and began to experiment. “I was curious, and a chocolate fan, I really developed a passion for chocolate, cooking and melting it, I liked to experiment with the material.”
Later she took intensive courses on the chemistry of preserving chocolate naturally and the art of making truffles, infusions and fillings. Since moving to Cocagne four years ago, she has created a chocolate laboratory in her basement and now sells her wares under the name Choco Cocagne at the Dieppe Market every Saturday morning.
Ginette says that many people believe that chocolate is not good for you, causing acne or weight gain.
“But I say to them, chocolate comes from nature, nature offers us the cacao bean, It is like coffee or anything else; in moderation we can have it. We can have 20 to 30 grams of chocolate a day, no problem. It is better to have a little bit of it every day than to have a kilo in one evening.”
“The higher the cacao content it is, the more bitter the chocolate will be,” says Ginette, “There are ways to cut the bitterness; it depends on what you like. If I want to make a raspberry chocolate, if I use too bitter a chocolate, something that is too strong, it will take over the raspberries But if I do a spicy chili peppers, then I will use a really dark and bitter chocolate that will enhance that flavour.”
Experimenting with new ideas is key to the success of Ganong as well. “We are always looking at the next product for the next season,” says Bryana, “We are looking at organic and high cocoa content, and looking to see how it would fit into our line up.
“I think for us, as a company, we are the little guy in the big pond, so we are always trying to find the next innovation.”
Ganong has had a series of firsts including cellophane wrapping and advertising innovations like collectible trading cards. They also created the Chicken Bone (the cinnamon-flavoured pink candy with chocolate centre).
Ganong was the first company in Canada to offer the heart-shaped box, but it made its debut at Christmas time. “We have a picture of the first heart-shaped box”, says Bryana, “and it actually has a holly motif on it. That was in the early 1930s when we had our own box-making factory on one of the levels of the old chocolate factory.
“We were always coming up with different ideas and we were the first in Canada to introduce the Valentine Heart box.”