Our speaker this week was Professor Martin Curzon, retired Professor of Paediatric Dentistry at Leeds University, who spoke with wit and authority about the history of chocolate and its supposed and actual role in health. Chocolate certainly had not harmed Great Uncle Harry who had lived to 105 despite being a chocoholic! Originally chocolate came from a tree in the Amazon 4000 years ago and was known to the Aztecs as a bitter drink. Later it was drunk mainly by women in coffee houses, sugar being added to make it palatable. Various medical benefits from laxative properties to relief of tiredness were claimed for chocolate.
Modern chocolate took off with the development of dark chocolate bars by Van Houten from 1828 onwards.
In England chocolate production was dominated by Quaker families like Rowntree, who saw chocolate as a pleasurable alternative to alcohol. Professor Curzon has investigated the organo-leptic properties of chocolate. It is high in endorphins which give pleasure and stimulate the brain. Dark chocolate in particular does no harm to the teeth and chocolate toothpaste has even been suggested. The large number of questions at the end of the talk showed how well Mr Curzon had captured our interest.