Don’t You Dare Call Chocolate “Sinful”

Photo courtesy  Flickr user donireewalker

Sinfully delicious. Wickedly rich. Obscenely decadent. I’m sick of hearing these words about dessert in general and chocolate in particular.

I know, I know, sugar will kill you and gluttony and all of that. But I think this bias goes deeper than the fact that sugar and (some types of) fat are bad for you. After all, people apply those words to a solid bar as often as they do a chocolate cake.

I’ve been rereading The True History of Chocolate as I work on my book, and I can’t help but think of this hilarious anecdote in it about the Marquis de Sade, who was a huge chocolate lover. In 1772 in Marseilles, long before he was jailed, the Marquis supposedly handed out chocolate pastilles laced with Spanish fly so that people “began to burn with unchaste ardor,” a writer noted of the incident. Naturally, a chocolate-fueled orgy followed, with some people dying “of their frightful priapic excesses.”

That story isn’t just about repressed desires of different sorts. It’s also about the general confusion around chocolate that dates back to the early days, when the Europeans first tried it and weren’t too sure what to make of it. Was it healthy or unhealthy? Food or drink? Pious or nefarious? We’re still debating many of these questions, as demonstrated by the endless parade of stories proclaiming chocolate is good for you or bad for you or will help your workout, for example.

Regardless, we clearly love the stuff. So maybe we should take a cue from the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, who weren’t confused about chocolate at all. To them it was a holy food, respected for its power but not feared, especially not for its calories.

Tell me what you know about chocolate and sin, whether it's a historical story or a personal one. Email me at or tell me on Facebook or Twitter, and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

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