A little piece on the properties of chocolate


One of the many books I am re-reading at the moment is The Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826),a lawyer, who was mayor of Belley, France until he fled to the United States after the Revolution in 1793.  On returning to France he was appointed a judge in Paris, and spent the last years of his life writing this book.

One topic on which he writes is the Properties of Chocolate, so for all those chocolate lovers out there, and especially those who are fond of drinking chocolate, here is a little piece to read. I particularly like the tone of ‘pompous arrogance’ which comes through in his writing – maybe it is serious, maybe not, but it does make me smile. Note, he refers to ‘amber’ in this piece, and my research indicates that he is doubtless referring to ambergris.


“Chocolate has given rise to profound dissertations whose purpose was to determine its nature and its properties and to place it properly in the category of hot, cold, or temperate foods; and it must be admitted that these written documents have done little to set forth the truth.

But with time and experience, those two sublime teachers, it has been shown as proof positive that carefully prepared chocolate is as healthful a food as it is pleasant; that it is nourishing and easily digested; that it does not cause the same harmful effects to feminine beauty which are blamed on coffee, but is on the contrary a remedy for them; that it is above all helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work, to those who labor in the pulpit or the courtroom, and especially to travellers; that it has produced good results in cases of chronic illness, and that is has even been used as the last resource in diseases of the pylorus.

Chocolate owes these different properties to that fact that, being in truth no more than eleosaccharum, there are few substances that contain more nourishing particles for a like weight: all of which makes it almost completely assimilable.

During the last war cacao was scarce, and above all very expensive: we busied ourselves in finding a substitute for it; but all out efforts were fruitless, and one of the blessings of peace has been to rid us of the various brews which we were forced to taste out of politeness, and which had no more to do with chocolate than chicory has to do with real mocha coffee.

Some people complain they cannot digest chocolate; some, on the other hand, insist that it does not satisfy them and that it digests too quickly.

It is quite possible that the first have only themselves to blame, and that the chocolate they use is of inferior quality or badly prepared; for good well-made chocolate can be assimilated by any stomach which can still digest feebly.

As to the others, the remedy is easy: they should fortify themselves at breakfast with a little meat pie, a cutlet, or a skewered kidney; then they should drink down a good bowl of the best Soconusco chocolate, and they would find themselves thanking God for their supraperfect digestive system.

This gives me a chance here to put down an observation the correctness of which may be counted on:

When you have breakfasted well and fully, if you will drink a big cup of chocolate at the end you will have digested the whole perfectly three hours later, and you will be still able to dine…Because of my scientific enthusiasm and the sheer force of my eloquence I have persuaded a number of ladies to try this, although they were convinced it would kill them; they have always found themselves in fine shape indeed, and have not forgotten to give the Professor his rightful due.

People who habitually drink chocolate enjoy unvarying health, and are least attacked by a host of little illnesses which can destroy the true joy of living; their physical weight is almost stationary: these are two advantages which anyone can verify among his acquaintanceship and especially among his friend who follow this diet.

Here is the proper place to speak of the properties of chocolate drunk with amber, which I myself have checked over a long period of time, and the result of which experiments I am proud to offer my readers.

Very well then: if any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have temporarily become dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of amber-flavoured chocolate, in the proportions of sixty to seventy-two grains of amber to a pound, and marvels will be performed.

In my own particular way of designating things I call ambered chocolate chocolate of the unhappy, since, in each one of the various physical or mental states I have outlined, there is a common but indefinable ground of suffering, which is like unhappiness.”


So next time you are contemplating that cup of hot chocolate, find the best you can buy and enjoy – for doubtless the Professor gives you good reason to do so!!


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