Chocolate on Trial—How Bitter or Bittersweet the Evidence?
ALL the testimony had been entered. The attorneys for the prosecution and the defense had made their final summations. The jury had been dismissed to consider the evidence and reach their decision. For hours the interested spectators crowding the courtroom had watched a steady stream of witnesses offering testimony for and against the defendant. Now they were waiting for the verdict.
The accused waited with them. Whether from heat or from anxiety, the defendant looked as if he would melt. As he waited, his mind raced back over the hours of testimony. He thought of his own account of his earlier years.
The Defendant’s Testimony
In 1519, he had told the court, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortés led an expedition into the heart of Mexico to capture gold and silver treasures from the Aztec Indians. The emperor, Montezuma, along with his Aztec subjects, thought Cortés and his soldiers were “white gods, risen from the sea.” They were welcomed and feasted and served a cold, bitter drink that was very popular with the Aztec hosts. It was called cacahuatl.
The Spaniards learned that the Aztecs believed that one of their prophets had brought the seeds of the cacao tree from paradise and had planted them in his garden. By drinking liquor pressed from the seeds, he acquired universal wisdom and knowledge. Montezuma himself believed that it not only gave him strength and energy but stimulated his waning sexual powers as well. Also, the cacao beans served as money.
Cacahuatl was too bitter for the European taste of the conquistadores, but by adding a little sugar it was improved immensely, and Cortés determined to introduce this sweetened version, called chocolatl, into the Spanish court. In Spain it was an immediate success. Fashionable ladies enjoyed it so much that they had their maids bring them steaming cups of chocolatl to sip while in church. The demand for the exotic drink rose rapidly, and soon Spanish ships were bringing regular supplies of cacao beans from the equatorial countries where the beans were grown.
The source and the recipe for this unusual and exciting drink were kept a closely guarded secret. But the secret leaked out, Spanish monks revealing it to monks in Italy. The drink spread like wildfire—to Italy, into France and England, and all of Europe. Each country added its own special aromatics to suit their taste. In England, the defendant recalled, they found my name difficult to pronounce, so they changed it to chocolate.
In all these countries, said the defendant, as well as in the United States in 1765, factories sprang up with modern methods of converting the cacao beans into chocolate, then later milk chocolate, chocolate bars, chocolate with nuts in it, chocolate with cherries in it and chocolate over caramel. In Italy there is a chocolate pasta. In some countries chocolate gravy is served over meats. In Denmark chocolate sandwiches are eaten for snacks. There is also chocolate tobacco and chocolate chili. You can even get chocolate-covered bees and grasshoppers, the defendant had said with a smile. But the judge gagged at this and reached for his glass of water.
“It is obvious,” the defendant had concluded to the court, “that the world is hooked on me. But this is not an indictment of me. This is testimony to my good character, as the facts have shown.”
The defendant remembered well the case for the prosecution. One of the witnesses called to the stand, he recalled, whose testimony the prosecution considered especially damaging to the defense, was a 20-year-old girl. Her face bore the scars of a severe case of acne. The witness testified that she consumed three or four chocolate bars a week. A parade of witnesses, all suffering from the same skin problem, followed her to the stand and one by one testified to their consuming several chocolate bars a week.
He also remembered the doctor who testified that almost every doctor he knew put chocolate on the list of foods that provoke allergic reactions. He could remember the face of each one who swore under oath that they suffered from hives, migraine headaches or upset stomachs after eating chocolate.
Then there was the dentist who told the court that chocolate caused tooth decay. Others joined him in this contention. Another doctor testified that chocolate was guilty of causing high levels of cholesterol in the blood, bringing on high risks of heart disease. This witness was followed by an expert who claimed that chocolate was “loaded with caffeine,” and that one would be better off drinking tea or coffee. On this note the prosecution rested.
The defendant remembered how pleased he was with the first witness for the defense. A noted allergist testified: “With the possible exception of milk and sugar, it is probable that chocolate is subjected to the most criticism levelled against a food. . . . It is timely to try to separate truth from myth. To do so becomes important because chocolate is a highly nutritious food whose virtues have been recognized where high energy in small bulk is critical.”
This witness was asked about the relationship between chocolate and acne. “For many years chocolate was routinely considered to be a major excitant of acne because it was thought to increase blood lipids, thus affecting sebaceous activity,” he said. He referred to research studies that “concluded that chocolate had no particular effect on acne.”
A recent study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania was cited. It concerned 65 acne sufferers. They began to consume large amounts of chocolate daily. Forty-six showed no change in their acne, 10 got better and 9 got worse. When the same patients took look-alike candy, containing no chocolate, 53 showed no change, 5 got better and 7 got worse. It was also brought out that a recent Navy study put a group of midshipmen who suffered from acne on a four-week schedule of eating at least three chocolate bars a day. Their skin lesions were unaffected.
What about migraine headaches, upset stomachs and hives that some people have testified to were due to the consumption of chocolate? Yes, the evidence clearly showed that chocolate can trigger these reactions in some people. The defendant recalled that this admission did make him shift nervously in his chair. The doctor agreed that “chocolate itself can indeed be the incitant in allergic, toxic . . . reactions,” but he also pointed out that in view of the widespread use of chocolate, the allergic reactions were relatively low. He also felt that chocolate is often used as a convenient scapegoat where diagnosis is “difficult or obscure” and that chocolate “is blamed and banned promiscuously, often with little justification.” Also, “Documented reactions to chocolate are far less frequent than the overall impression entertained by physicians and laymen alike.”
The defendant was particularly interested in the defense against the charge that chocolate causes tooth decay. He had listened to reports of studies by three research centers, including the National Institute for Dental Research. Their findings were that chocolate contains an antidecay factor—possibly its fat content—that coats and thereby protects teeth from decay.
However, a milk chocolate bar is 55 percent sugar by weight, and sugar does cause tooth decay. But it may be that the antidecay factor in chocolate will combat the decay-enhancing character of the sugar. Moreover, starchy foods, such as potatoes, adhere to the teeth longer than the highly soluble sugar does and may therefore be an even greater culprit in tooth decay!
The defendant remembered with amusement the testimony of a lady authority of Pennsylvania State University: “Your body cannot distinguish between the sugars from fruits, vegetables, milk or honey, or those from chocolate and confections.” And he could not restrain himself from chuckling when he recalled the testimony about a University of Texas study that had found that his rival look-alike, the carob bar, was five times more likely to cause tooth decay than was a bar of chocolate!
The defense went further. No, it is not true that chocolate causes high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Some experts have shown that the fat in chocolate is saturated, “but unlike other saturated fats it apparently does not raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Since it is a product of plants, pure chocolate contains no cholesterol. Those concerned about heart disease,” the article reporting on this continued, “need not avoid chocolate except as a possible contributor of excess calories.” So if you are counting calories, beware: A chocolate bar of one and a half ounces has 220 calories!
The defendant, however, did comfort himself by recalling the testimony that these were not totally “empty calories,” as some like to say. In chocolate there are small amounts of proteins, vitamins A, D, E and K, linoleic acid, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, phenylethylamine and iron.
Yes, it is true, chocolate does contain some caffeine. But far less than is found in a cup of tea or coffee. How much less? An ounce of bittersweet chocolate has about 5 to 10 milligrams of caffeine, whereas a cup of brewed coffee has 100 to 150 milligrams.
Last of all, one expert testified that Montezuma and his Aztec subjects were right. Chocolate is a powerful fighter of fatigue and it does give the consumer strength and energy. Athletes and soldiers in the field use it. When Hillary’s expedition conquered Everest, they took along hundreds of pounds of chocolate and cocoa. And when the U.S. Gemini astronauts went into space, chocolate went with them.
At this point the defendant’s recollections were interrupted. The men and women of the jury filed back into the jury box. The judge asked the defendant to rise. A hush fell over the room as the dark-brown defendant rose to his feet and faced the jury. This was what the crowd had been anxiously awaiting. The moment of truth had arrived.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” the judge asked, “have you reached a decision?”
The foreman looked unhappily at the judge. “No,” he said simply. “We could not come to a unanimous decision. Feelings were mixed. Some thought him guilty, the rest of us felt he was innocent.”
A babble of noise broke out in the courtroom. A hung jury! What happens next? The judge would decide that later. But what about the audience? For now, each one would have to make up his own mind about the accused.
And what about Mr. Chocolate? How did he feel? “I’m satisfied. I’m not nearly as bad as I’m often made out to be, but I’m not perfect either.” He thought for a moment, then added with a pleased expression: “But what food is perfect, besides uncontaminated mother’s milk?”
[Blurb on page 22]
I’m even served as chocolate-covered bees and grasshoppers
[Blurb on page 22]
Chocolate can trigger allergic reactions in some people
[Blurb on page 23]
A carob bar is five times more likely to cause tooth decay than a chocolate bar
[Blurb on page 23]
Beware: A chocolate bar of one and a half ounces has 220 calories!
[Blurb on page 24]
When Hillary conquered Everest and astronauts went into space, chocolate went with them
On an occasion when Jehovah’s people were mourning, they were told to “eat the fatty things and drink the sweet things” and not to be sad but to be joyful instead. (Nehemiah 8:10) It is good to remember that “the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking,” and “foods which God created to be partaken of with thanksgiving” may be used with moderation.—Romans 14:17; 1 Timothy 4:3, 4