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Chocolate & Why we just can’t get enough!

Close up image of chocolate chunks

Today we celebrate a sacred day in our Sweet Street community. That day is National Chocolate Day. Our friend, sweet, glorious and rich chocolate. Here’s a little history of this craveable ingredient, found in many of our desserts, and why we just can’t get enough of it.

Brief History

Woman picking cacoa from tree

Chocolate, as you may well know, comes from the cocoa bean, which have been growing on trees in South and Central America for over 100 million years. Cocoa trees started growing in the lower slopes of the Andes Mountains. They live in hot and rainy areas close to the Equator. The cocoa beans come from a large fruit such as this:  They are full of vitamins like magnesium and Vitamin C, but they are quite bitter. They also contain a fair amount of caffeine. People started farming cocoa as early as 15,000 BC in South America. Cocoa farming spread quickly to North and Central America and by 2000 BC, people of Mexico were grinding cocoa beans and making them into a hot or cold spicy chocolate drink. Making various concoctions, they sometimes used honey to sweeten the chocolate. 

 

Sandy's Hands with Cocoa Beans

 

By 200s BC, during Aztec Empire, cocoa beans became an important trade item as the people in the north could not grow their own due to climate restrictions. Thus, the migration into Arizona and Colorado. The government soon made people use cocoa beans as money and the farmers could not afford to actually eat them anymore. Only the rich were privileged enough to drink chocolate drinks. In the late 1400s Ad, when Spanish invaders came to Mexico and America’s Southwest, they tried chocolate delicacies made for the rich and they brought it back to Europe with them. 

 

What We Crave

Today, chocolate is distributed everywhere and is meant for everyone. Variations of chocolate have been developed and endless dessert items have been created from this ancient ingredient. But why do we love it so much?

Dr. Stavnezer says “We crave chocolate because it is good!” It tastes, feels and smells good. Those feelings are the result of our brain releasing chemicals, dopamine, in response to the experience. Dopamine is that feel-good neurotransmitter that is released whenever we enjoy something and is part of our reward circuit. However, this circuit is part of our uniquely designed genetics. Thus, some people claim they don’t like chocolate… Crazy! 

Illustration of how cocoa increases dopamine

Chocolate also contains theobromine that can increase heart rate and arouse the senses, caffeine that makes us feel awake and increases focus, fat and sugar, preferred food sources due to calorie density.

Our brain creates a memory of this positive experience through the hippocampus. Therefore, every time we eat chocolate we are strengthening and reinforcing that reward system (dopamine response)  and the memory of feel-good sensations associated with it.

The Numbers

The numbers speak for themselves. According to Data Essential, chocolate is on 71.1% of US menus with a high versatility score. Chocolate can be found in cakes, brownies, cookies, candy, pies, ice cream, milk shakes, cheesecake, pudding, dessert bars, custards, mousses, fudge, pastries and much more. It’s popularity continues to grow, with no end in sight. 

Historic Chocolate on Menu Chart with Growth

Soucres:

https://quatr.us/south-america/chocolate-come-south-america.htm

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-we-crave-chocolate-so-much

https://apps.datassential.com/snap/food?q=CHOCOLATE




12 Fun Facts About Your Taste Buds

Buzzfeed: We owe a lot to these little guys. They’re the reason we find Sweet Street products so tasty!

https://www.buzzfeed.com/pepsi/fun-facts-about-your-taste-buds

1. You can’t see your taste buds.

Contrary to popular belief, those bumps on your tongue are not your taste buds. Those are called papillae, and they contain numerous taste buds within and around them.

 

 

2. Taste buds aren’t just on your tongue.

They’re on the roof of your mouth, your throat, and even your esophagus!

 

3. That thing they taught you in school was wrong.

Remember that map of the tongue that showed which sections of the tongue were responsible for which taste? This was scientifically disproven. All regions of the tongue detect all tastes, though different parts are more sensitive to certain flavors. Science prevails again!

 

4. So there are these things called taste hairs…

Each taste bud has 50 to 100 receptor cells. Sticking out of these receptor cells are tiny taste hairs that check out the food chemicals in your saliva then send a signal to your brain. Ewww, taste hairs…

 

5. Everyone has a different amount of taste buds.

People can have anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds. Yet another fascinating trait that makes each of us unique!

 

 

6. Introducing “supertasters!”

People with significantly more taste buds are called supertasters. They are much more sensitive to taste and may find certain foods too bitter or sweet.

Find out if you’re a supertaster here!

7. A taste bud’s life is fleeting.

Taste buds only live for 10 to 14 days.

8. The good news: They grow back!

Your taste buds are constantly regenerating. So don’t worry when you burn your tongue on some hot coffee — you’ll get new taste buds in no time!

 

9. The bad news: Fewer taste buds grow back as you get older.

Your sense of taste decreases as you get older. SO EAT ALL THE CHOCOLATE YOU CAN WHILE YOU HAVE THE CHANCE!

 

 

Sweet Street NY Cheesecake with Tabasco Bottle

Sweet Street NY Cheesecake with Tabasco

10. Spicy food hurts.

When food tastes too spicy, it’s actually stimulating the pain receptors in your mouth and not the taste buds. So when it feels like it’s burning… it kind of is.

11. Taste buds are there to protect you.

Your taste buds protect you from dangerous foods. When something tastes wrong, you immediately spit it out, thus preventing it from getting to your stomach. Thanks, taste buds!

 

 

12. Taste and smell: It’s a beautiful romance.

Flavor comes from the combination of taste AND smell. Ever notice how your food tastes bland when you’ve got a stuffy nose? These two don’t like to be separated.




Why umami is a vital flavor for food

Image of Zoe's Crush Cookie and Umami callout

Umami is the mysteriously addictive fifth primary taste we all crave unknowingly.  The complex food component has created a hunger in consumers that needs to be satisfied. Luckily, Sweet Street is at the forefront of this emerging trend, that’s about to blow up. Zoe’s Crush is a perfect mix of sweet, savory and umami. This deeply satisfying, gluten free, deliciously packed cookie blends almonds, toffee, toasted sesame, candied ginger, Peruvian chocolate and a delicate hint of miso, that’s where umami plays. What is Umami and why is it vital for food?

 

Image of burger and fries in Sweet Street Cafe

 

It seems as though consumers are just recognizing the name of this elusive flavor, but Umami has been well-established in Asian culinary history, first named in 1908 by a Japanese chemist. In Japanese, umami means “pleasant savory taste”, but we know it as “craveability”. The bold taste can be found in Asian cuisine through ingredients like soy sauce, miso paste, gochujang, and common pantry staples like, tomato paste, Parmesan cheese, and mushrooms – the list goes on.

 

Katie Ayoub, from Flavor and the Menu, points out that there’s a new and interesting trend happening in menu development and Umami is top of the roster. “The collective taste buds of consumers are evolving” she says. Chefs around the world have noticed a shift in the preference of the modern palate, averting overly sweet foods and focusing on the more savory dishes. Umami balances the other four tastes. It’s is more than flavor, it’s a sensation that stays with you and lingers.

Zoe's Crush Cookie on Table with ingredients scatteredThe perplexing taste has earned its place on global menus, but how the flavor actually functions is complicated. Nancy Rawson, associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says that “there is a molecular receptor which responds to umami stimuli from MSG”. This means that humans have developed a mechanism to sense and respond to umami flavor. This priming process may take place as early as before and just after birth, when amniotic fluid and breast milk contain large amount of amino acids that transmit umami taste, setting us up to crave its complexity throughout life. Even as the senses of an aging population decrease, umami can act as an agent to enhance appetite by keeping the dish appealing. Food scientists are still researching to explain it’s molecular mechanism and human’s nutritional drive towards it, but one thing is clear, umami is here to stay. 

 Click here to try new Zoe’s Crush!

Zoe's Crush Cookies StackedSources:

https://www.fooddive.com/news/why-umami-is-a-vital-flavor-for-food/564489/

https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-umami-1664724

https://bit.ly/34Il9op