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Is chocolate REALLY an aphrodisiac?

“Over 90% of Americans are planning to give chocolate or confectionery this Valentine’s Day”

FoodNavigator, USA

Great idea! But we wish that more of this gifting was of craft chocolate. So please do your part; treat yourself, your partner and any other loved ones to some of the treats we’ve assembled for Valentine’s Day.

As you do this, if the mood so takes you, please see the below for a (brief) history of chocolate and sex, starting with some definitions before moving onto some debunking. But fear not: Even though technically chocolate hasn’t been proven to be a “biochemical aphrodisiac”, it’s still a great way to show and share your affection. Especially on Valentine’s day.

Definitions and History

An aphrodisiac is defined as “a food, drink, or other thing that stimulates sexual desire”, or “a substance that increases sexual desire, sexual attraction, sexual pleasure, or sexual behavior” (Wikipedia).

Chocolate makers, pundits, medical ‘experts’ and many others would have us believe that chocolate is a physical aphrodisiac. This linking of sex and chocolate isn’t new. From the first time the conquistadors saw chocolate, the two have been “intimately associated”. To quote Bernal Díaz Castillo (chronicler of Hernan Cortéz´s conquest of Mexico), Montezuma would regularly consume “50 great jars of prepared cacao and foam … which they said was for success with woman”.

Read more about pre-conquest Aztec chocolate habits HERE.

And even though much of chocolate’s initial take up in Europe was driven by the Catholic Church (come to a virtual tasting to find out more), chocolate’s association with sex continued to be consummated. For Casanova chocolate was the “very elixir of love” and the notorious Marquis de Sade celebrated its potency, begging for it to be brought to his boudoir.

In Britain, Henry Stubbe, a 17th century physician, was a passionate supporter, writing in The Natural History of Chocolate (1662) of the “great use of chocolate in Venery [sexual indulgence], and for supplying the Testicles with a Balsam, or a Sap.” And Stubbe converted Charles II to his way of thinking, with Charles II spending a staggering £229 10s 8d on chocolate and cocoa in 1669 alone; considerably more even than he paid as a stipend to his various mistresses.

Current Claims

Today chocolate is still associated with being an aphrodisiac, capable of working all sorts of miracles. In part these claims are based off this history and increasingly they are also based off claims associated with the myriad of chemicals contained in chocolate.

Most of these claims are based off four chemicals, described briefly below: 

  1. Theobromine: Theobromine is to chocolate what caffeine is to coffee; that is to say: the main stimulant. But whilst theobromine INCREASES the heart rate, it DECREASES blood pressure. It’s the “stimulant that relaxes”. (Note: dogs can’t metabolize chocolate, and it can lead to really unpleasant reactions in them … so don’t ruin Valentine’s Day by treating your dog).
  2. Phenethylamine (PEA): Phenethylamine works by stimulating the release of endorphins and dopamine. It works the same way as an exercise makes you feel good (and sometimes high). Along with oxytocin, PEA is also produced in the first flush of love (it also can create migraines in a small number of people … so you’ve been warned!).
  3. Trytophan: Trytophan is a chemical that the brain uses to make serotonin, which, in high, levels can produce feelings of elation, even ecstasy. It can also make you sleepy. And in addition to chocolate, turkey, milk oats and various nuts are also very high in trytophan.
  4. Quercetin: Quercetin is a flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory properties and is claimed to work similarly to Viagra by relaxing blood vessels and increasing blood flow to genitalia. Again, chocolate contains lots of quercetin (as do many other fruits).

The Bad News

Unfortunately the biochemical claims for any of these chemicals as a physical aphrodisiac seem… stretched. 

  • Even though chocolate does contain PEA, and as people fall in love their brains produce PEA, the human digestive system breaks down this PEA very quickly. So no matter how much (or how fast) you (or your partner) eat chocolate, the PEA in chocolate won’t pass through to your brain to recreate the feeling of being in love.
  • Quercetin has so far only been shown to work for people with really poor circulation, and even then, there is a dearth of studies showing quercetin working on human genitalia.
  • At best a case can be made that theobromine and tryptophan may make your heart beat faster and make you ‘happier’. But it’s a stretch to describe this as an aphrodisiac.

The Good News

Psychologically, the news is a lot better! 

  • Gifting chocolate, and the thought of savouring chocolate, creates ANTICIPATION.
  • Gifting is also a great SIGNAL; for example it can show you’ve been thoughtful, appreciate your partners likes (and dislikes) etc. explain why and what you’ve chosen.
  • The aromas, tastes and textures of chocolate are EVOCATIVE and STIMULATING.
  • SAVOURING craft chocolate is also a wonderfully sensual and sensory pleasure. It’s MOOD ENHANCING

So we can’t promise “the Lynx effect”. Chocolate hasn’t been shown to work as a pheromone or biochemical aphrodisiac.  

But craft chocolate is a great way to start treating your Valentine. It shows you care and want to share. And it kicks off the right mood and signals your desire to savour and stimulate! For inspiration, see HERE.

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Sex & Chocolate

For as long as chocolate has been consumed, it has been attributed with libido-lifting, sex-enhancing properties. The mythology surrounding chocolate’s physiological effects is extensive and – we hate to break it to you – much of it is more fiction than fact.

The History of Sex and Chocolate

Montezuma, a renowned fan of drinking chocolate, regularly drank liquid cocoa to excess in order to increase his “success with women”. Whether his chocolate habits truly enhanced Montezuma’s sexual prowess is pretty dubious – sure, it may have granted him the energy to face his harem, but it’s unlikely to have directly effected his libido.

Montezuma wasn’t the only historical figure who claimed chocolate had aphrodisiacal properties; other significant leaders similarly endowed chocolate with such wishful thinking. Read more here.

Valentine’s Day

Few people know that the true origins of Valentine’s Day are not rooted in cutesy cards and Cupid’s arrows, but in a violent Roman festival called Lupercalia. So how and when did chocolate become part of the centrepiece for this annual holiday?

The Victorian era first saw the iconic heart-shaped box of chocolates which would be eventually become a tokenistic – and almost cliché – feature of Valentine’s Day.

Richard Cadbury, with his revolutionary method of making solid bars, fathered this idea of the box of chocolates. People even held onto the ornate boxes as keepsakes.

For a more detailed account of Valentine’s Day, see our article on it here.

Is Chocolate an Aphrodisiac?

Whilst chocolate has historically been considered an aphrodisiac, the truth of the matter is that chocolate does little to directly enhance libido or increase one couple’s attraction towards one another.

That said, because it tastes good and it does contain a small amount of dopamine-releasing hormone theobromine, chocolate can act as a mood enhancer. So, it won’t not make you want to rip each other’s clothes off. 

But for the complete lowdown on the (mostly fraught) connection between chocolate and sex, please see our article on the science behind this cocoa-claim.

Sex Sells: the marketing of chocolate as “sexy”

Sex sells – an advertising mantra which absolutely can (and has, liberally) been applied to chocolate.

Those of you who remember watching tv in the 1980s and 90s might remember the notorious flake ads – one of which went heavy on the innuendo with a woman reclined in a bath which begins to overflow as she sinks her teeth into a Cadbury’s flake bar.

These ads established a trend in the chocolate-advertising industry whereby ad-campaigns really pushed the limits of sexual innuendo to the max. And who can blame them? Chocolate and sex is pleasure squared – and who isn’t going to be tempted to buy into that?

For some more examples of when ad-campaigns made chocolate synonymous with sex, see our full article on the history of sexy chocolate advertising.

The Truth?

Much as sex does sell, here at Cocoa Runners we’re committed to delivering the truth on all things chocolate.

We strip away many of the invented properties of chocolate which have often functioned as a selling point or “good excuse” to indulge in chocolate. However, craft chocolate isn’t a hard sell, nor does anyone need an excuse to consume it, because we know it’s doing good in the world already!

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Sex Sells: A Brief History of Advertising Chocolate

If there’s anything we’ve learned from years of Mad Men, saucy perfume ads, and the notorious Flake ads, it’s that sex sells.

And the Cadbury flake ads are a prime example of the advertising mantra “sex sells”. If the subject of saucy adverts arises at the dinner table, the flake ads will usually be the first to come up. This campaign spanned the 1980s and 90s, with each advertisement having one common denominator: a very attractive woman who suggestively locks eyes with viewers as she takes a bite out of a Flake bar. 

This year, Cadbury launched a very suggestive advert for crème eggs, oozing with innuendo on licking, sucking, and lip-smacking. The sexual metaphors were just overt enough to appear self-aware; Cadbury knew they were playing on a long-standing history of using sex to sell chocolate. 

But why is sex such an effective way to sell chocolate? Can we really believe that chocolate really will have women swooning and men drooling over us?  

It’s important to note that the connection between sex and chocolate was made long before the advertisements we know and love today existed. Ever since chocolate was first consumed – by Aztec heavyweights like Montezuma – it has been attributed with libido-lifting, virility-boosting properties. In short, it’s always been considered an aphrodisiac.  

And before Cadbury’s crème egg “golden goobilee” campaign, there were countless, more subtle (but equally suggestive) chocolate advertisements to grace our screen. The 1992 Galaxy ad showed a woman sinking into her sofa, parting her painted red lips and delicately placing a square of Galaxy chocolate onto her tongue before closing her eyes in a moment of satisfaction that borders on euphoric.  

Women’s sexually charged relationship with chocolate …

And it often is women we see being susceptible to the allegedly aphrodisiacal qualities of chocolate in these adverts. In fact, the thought of a man softly treading around his apartment, in a silk robe, on the “hunt” for a hit of cocoa-goodness seems almost ludicrous. There are far fewer intimate close-ups, parted lips, and satisfied sights from men than there are from women throughout chocolate advertisements. 

This seems especially interesting given that it was, historically, powerful men who indulged in chocolate as a means to increase virility; women were not thought to be so susceptible to the influence of aphrodisiacs. That these advertisements present women as the primary consumer – and lover – of chocolate signifies a recent cultural shift in our understanding of chocolate in relation to gender.   

Back to Reality…

Much as we would love to tell you otherwise, it’s sadly untrue that chocolate functions as an aphrodisiac; it won’t have you ripping each other’s clothes off like that hot couple you saw in the ads. However, chocolate can lock you into a moment – like the women in the ads – with your eyes closed and mouth puckered as you savour a square of your favourite bar.

And if you’re wanting to be like the women you see on Ferrero Rocher, Galaxy, or Flake adverts, then order some of our favourite bars, close your eyes and indulge.

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A Brief History of Sex and Chocolate

Since chocolate has been consumed, it has been (optimistically) endowed with sexual and romantic properties. Aztec emperor, Montezuma, allegedly consumed “50 great jars of prepared cacao and foam […] which they said was for success with women.” As testimonials go, this is an impressive one.

And Montezuma wasn’t the only powerful leader to be convinced of chocolate’s virile properties; in Europe, Casanova and Marquis de Sade were similarly enamoured with the confectionery’s aphrodisiacal quality. The French court

Over in Britain, Henry Stubbe, a qualified 17th century physician, wrote in The Natural History of Chocolate (1662) of the “great use of chocolate in Venery [sexual indulgence], and for supplying the Testicles with a Balsam, or a Sap.” 

Stubbe even prepared drinking chocolate for Charles II – England’s first chocoholic – who spent a staggering £229 10s 8d on the stuff in 1669 alone – that’s even more than the £220 stipend he granted his mistresses! From this we can see that Charles II was a believer in chocolate’s potent properties.

But just because some guy – however powerful or scientifically qualified they may be – claimed chocolate to be an aphrodisiac does not make it true. Although the jury does still appear to be out, with articles still placing chocolate in the ‘top ten sex boosting foods’, science suggests that aphrodisiacs themselves may not exist.

Whilst it would make it even easier to sell our craft chocolate if we sold you the dream of cocoa-induced sexual prowess, it wouldn’t be honest – and we’d rather you know the truth than face… disappointment. But if you’re keen to come to your own conclusions, feel free to investigate using some of our highest rated bars!

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Valentine’s Day: More than a Box of Chocolates?

The history of Valentine’s Day is darker than you might expect; it hasn’t always been boxes of chocolates and cutesy cards.

Lupercalia

The Roman festival, Lupercalia, which took place annually on the 15th of February, was bloody and sexually charged – with animal sacrifices and violent spankings standing in for the dinner dates and lingerie we now know today.

The pagan festival was dedicate to Faunus, the Roman God of agriculture. It was believed that running around spanking women would ward off evil spirits of infertility, so Lupercalia had less to do with love (as we know it) and more to do with reproductive health. Romantic, right?

Although Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity, it was later outlawed at the end of the 5th century by Pope Gelasius who declared the 14th of February to be “Valentine’s Day” instead. However, whipping continues to play an important role during festivals around fertility in countries such as Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia!

St. Valentine(s)

The patron saint of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery and is even thought to be three separate people. The Catholic Church recognises three different saints called Valentine – all of whom were martyred.

One legend suggests that Valentine was a Roman Priest who, when Claudius III outlawed marriage for young men on the basis that single men make better soldiers, defied this rule by continuing to marry young men anyway. He was subsequently executed – so died in the name of love, quite literally.

Another – similarly tragic – Valentine was said to have sent the first ever Valentine’s Day card. After falling in love with his jailor’s daughter, he wrote her a letter signed ‘from your Valentine’, something which later became the cliched mantra for the ultimate cliché holiday. Who knew that its origins lay behind the bars of a Roman prison?

Although the truth of these stories is murky, the popularity of these figures endured in medieval France and England.

Ye Olde Valentine’s Day: Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules

English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record Valentine’s Day as a romantic occasion in his 1375 poem ‘The Parliament of Foules’. He wrote ‘For this was Seynt Valentyne’s day / When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.’

So, even by the 14th century, Valentine’s Day had more to do with fertility and animals than with love.

The Victorian Era: Cadbury’s Box of Chocolates

The prudish Victorians certainly wouldn’t have dedicated a holiday to spanking  – nor would they have necessarily entertained the idea of dying in the name of love (a notion far too impractical for the industrial age). Instead, with Richard Cadbury’s revolutionary way of making solid bars, boxes of chocolate and greetings cards became the new way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

The boxes Cadbury designed were so beautiful that they were often kept as places to store other mementos of love, once the chocolate had been consumed.

Victorian-Era Chocolate Box

Be Our Valentine!

For Valentine’s Day, whether you’re looking to treat a partner or yourself, be sure to check out our range of Valentine’s Day gifts! Nothing says “I love you” (or “I love me”) more than a sweet treat in pretty packaging.

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Is Chocolate an Aphrodisiac?

Could the rumours be true? Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? Whilst it has been affectionately termed a “food of love”, evidence suggests that it’s simply a food we love. 

Society seems hell-bent on instilling chocolate with magical properties so as to justify our consumption of it. Countless health claims are made surrounding chocolate and its connection with sex has been a long-standing one. Even today, there are dubious studies carried out on chocolate and its aphrodisiacal qualities.

What is an Aphrodisiac?

An aphrodisiac is defined as ‘a food, drink, or other thing that stimulates sexual desire.’ It’s the (pseudo)scientific term for “love potion” – and chocolate has long been considered a staple aphrodisiac.

However, the term ‘aphrodisiac’ wasn’t used to describe food until the seventeenth century. During this period, aphrodisiacs weren’t understood as something that aroused desire, but as a means to fight against infertility. And the list of foods that qualified as aphrodisiacs was extensive, including stinging nettles and root vegetables like parsnips (which I’m sure had little to do with their nutritional content). Chocolate really was just one of many foods said to increase potency.

Why Chocolate is Considered an Aphrodisiac

20th century studies fixated on two chemicals found in chocolate: phenylethylamine (PEA) and tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by the brain to make serotonin, a crucial mood-boosting hormone. PEA stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine – it can also be found in those first flashes of love.

Whilst both of these could account for why chocolate might “get you in the mood”,  it is unlikely that the few squares of craft chocolate your consume contain enough of either chemical to incite a couple to rip each other’s clothes off (contrary to whatever adverts might suggest). In fact, PEA is digested so quickly in the stomach that it is near impossible to track its physiological effects and, by extension, whether or not it acts as an aphrodisiac.

Another chemical found in (dark) chocolate which could be credited with libido lifting properties is quercetin. Quercetin is a flavonoid works similarly to Viagra medications in that its anti-inflammatory properties can relax blood vessels and therefore increase blood flow to genitalia. However, the effects of this are limited to people with poor circulation; someone with a healthy blood flow is unlikely to benefit from these effects.

The Truth of the Matter Is…

Recently, the very existence of aphrodisiacs has been under scrutiny, with evidence suggesting that foods which increase desire/sexual function might be more ‘mind over matter’ than physiological fact.

So, chocolate may not induce any chemical responses strong enough to have its consumers overcome with lust, but it may have psychological benefits which certainly won’t stop you from getting in the mood. The stages of anticipation (as you unwrap your favourite bar) followed by savouring (as you let it melt in your mouth) that come with chocolate consumption are pleasurable enough so as to enhance our mood.

But if you’d like to personally investigate the mood-boosting, alleged libido-enhancing properties of chocolate, give some of our highest-rated bars a try!

Further Reading on Chocolate and Aphrodisiacs:

  1. Aphrodisiacs, Fertility, and Medicine in Early Modern England

2. ‘Do Aphrodisiacs Really Work?’ (Jessica Brown, BBC, 2019)

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The Idea of Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?

Clearly this would be GREAT news for chocolate makers

But when you look at the history and science it starts to get a little “shaky” . There are a few tantalising suggestions from science as to why chocolate could be considered a “food of love”. And its romantic properties have been talked about for as long as it’s been consumed.

But the validity of these claims, and its strong association with Valentine’s Day is really not that conclusive. At the same time, it’s worth wondering how a Roman festival where young men stripped off and chased their beaus with whips was turned into an occasion for gifting chocolates.

Has chocolate always been considered an aphrodisiac?

Well, yes. From the first time the conquistadors witnessed the Aztec drinking chocolate, they wrote about its powers as an aphrodisiac.  Bernal Díaz Castillo, who chronicled Hernan Cortéz’s conquest of Mexico, wrote of Montezuma drinking “50 great jars of prepared cacao and foam … which they said was for success with women.” 

And after chocolate took off in Europe (once the Pope allowed it to be consumed on fasting days, of which there were over 100 a year), chocolate again rapidly acquired a reputation as an aphrodisiac. 

Soon after the first chocolate shop was opened in Gracechurch in London in 1657, writers were already making elaborate claims about chocolate. The learned physician Henry Stubbe wrote in The Natural History of Chocolate (1662) of the “great use of Chocolate in Venery [sexual indulgence], and for supplying the Testicles with a Balsam, or a Sap.”

Stubbe also prepared it for King Charles II, who spent a literal fortune on chocolate — £229 10s 8d, to be exact, in 1669 alone (compared with the £6 he spent on tea and the £200 stipend he paid to his mistress).

Outside of England, Casanova and the Marquis De Sade were convinced of chocolate’s aphrodisiac properties and infatuated with it. Casanova pined for it while imprisoned in Venice, for example.

But what really made chocolate take off was the 19th-century move from drinking chocolate to eating chocolate. This went hand in hand with the marketing genius of Richard Cadbury, who seized on another trend — the Victorian fascination with Valentine’s Day.

The History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has a complicated and murky history.  

One intriguing theory argues that the lovers’ holiday is a takeover of the annual Roman festival of Lupercalia, held each year on the 15th February, where young men removed their clothes, grabbed a whip, and then ran around after their girlfriends to spank them in the hope of increasing their fertility. 

Indeed a variant of this tradition lives on in Czechia and Hungary, where on Easter Sunday (another fertility festival) men arm themselves with a whip called a pomlázka, and go from door to door, spanking women on the bottom. The women then soak the men with buckets of cold water.

The Catholic Church has at least two St Valentines.  One of these Valentines was martyred on February 14th by Claudius II after he flouted the imperial order forbidding young men to marry.

Thereafter the history becomes even murkier, only reappearing in England with Chaucer’s poem of 1382, the “Parlement of Foules”, where Chaucer writes of love when every bird cometh to choose his mate on “seynt Voantynes day”.

But it wasn’t until the Victorian era that Valentine’s Day really took off, with the appearance of cupid themed gifts, cards, and boxes.

So where does chocolate come in?

In 1868 Richard Cadbury brought chocolate and Valentine’s Day together with the inspired idea of creating a love heart shaped “Fancy Box” full of bonbons, chocolate flavoured ganaches and chocolate enrobed fruits.  And the rest is history — with the US alone gifting and consuming more than 40 million boxes of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

Cadbury's love heart shaped box, bringing chocolate and Valentine's Day together

But is there any evidence that chocolate is an aphrodisiac?

There are plenty of reasons for thinking that chocolate can help lovers on the hunt for a romantic evening. Chocolate contains LOTS of chemicals – over 300 of them. And most of the claims for chocolate as an aphrodisiac come from three of these:

  • Theobromine: Theobromine is to chocolate what caffeine is to coffee; that is to say, the main stimulant. But whilst theobromine INCREASES the heart rate, it DECREASES blood pressure. A stimulant that relaxes too. Great as a mood enhancer on Valentine’s Day.

Side Note: Theobromine is also the chemical that causes dogs to be violently, and sometimes fatally, sick after eating chocolate.  Whereas humans can metabolize chocolate in a few hours, dogs can take 20 hours or more – and as they metabolize the chocolate, it causes them to vomit.

  • Phenethylamine (PEA): Phenethylamine works by stimulating the release of endorphins and dopamine. It works the same way that exercise makes you feel good (and sometimes high).  Along with Oxytocin, PEA is also produced in the first flush of love.  But there is a caveat here — see below.
  • Tryptophan: Tryptophan is a chemical that the brain uses to make serotonin, which in high levels can produce feelings of elation, even ecstasy, and can help to ward off depression.

Physiologically and psychologically our enjoyment of chocolate goes through (at least) three stages:

  • Anticipation – including the excitement of seeing the chocolate and imagining what is next.  Advertising companies get this.  Think Flake ads, or remember the Terry’s catchphrase, “See the face you love light up with Terry’s All Gold”.  It’s the thought that counts. And this is DEFINITELY true for chocolate and Valentine’s day.
Old Flake TV ad, combining chocolate and romance
Terry's tv ad showing chocolate and love together
  • Savouring – for most of us, eating chocolate is a sensory pleasure.  It’s VERY pleasurable to savour chocolate.  Chocolate really does cheer people up.  It’s a great reward. It’s a great pick up. And great to savour on Valentine’s Day.
  • Digesting – this is where all the claims for chocolate as an aphrodisiac start to get shaky. Even though chocolate does contain PEA, produced by people falling in love, the human’s digestive system is really good at breaking down the PEA in chocolate super fast.  So it’s hard to see how it acts as a physiological aphrodisiac to make your recipient swoon and fall in love.  On the other hand, high quality craft chocolate may well make your heart beat faster and make you feel more relaxed, thanks to tryptophan and theobromine.

Be Our Valentine

So to summarise: Chocolate and Valentine’s Day has a rich, albeit slightly patchy, history.  Chocolate contains some of the chemicals produced by the brain when we fall in love. And psychologically it sends all the right messages.

So please do consider some craft chocolate gifts this Valentine’s Day.

Further Reading:

The History of Valentine’s Day 

Smithsonian: How Chocolate and Valentine’s Day Mated for Life

History: How Chocolate Became a Valentine’s Day Staple

NPR: How Chocolate Became a Sweet (but not so innocent) Consort to Valentine’s Day

National Geographic: Valentine’s Day: A History of Naked Romans, Paganism, and Whips!

Vice: Strange Valentine’s Day Traditions

The Chemistry of Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac

Healthy Eating: Chocolate and Dopamine

NCBI: The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance

Science of Cooking: Does Chocolate contain Drugs?

Clinical Education: PEA – A Natural Antidepressant

Nature’s Poisons: Chocolate and the Chemistry of Love

McGill: The “Chemical of Love”