Is it love … or just the chocolate?

The raw deal: UliMana’s chocolate makers craft healthy raw chocolate treats, with ingredients like Goji berry, at Blue Ridge Food Ventures. Photos by Jonathan Welch

What’s an aphrodisiac? It’s anything, usually a foodstuff, that reportedly increases certain desires in those who consume it. Some examples can be a bit wild — think tiger penis in China, for example.

Chocolate is a classic love food on its own, and some local chocolate-makers even enhance their chocolate with aphrodisiacs around Valentine’s Day. Don’t worry: We found no evidence of raw oysters — yet another reported libido-enhancer — in any of the confections.

Dream chocolate

Jael and Dan Rattigan, the chocolate making couple behind The French Broad Chocolate Lounge, box up their Aphrodisiac Collection specifically for St. Valentine's Day.

The assortment is filled with natural mood-enhancing ingredients, the couple says. There's the Kama Sutra-approved cardamom in the Indian kulfi, for example. There’s a touch of stimulating cayenne in the canela picante and libido-boosting star anise in the cabernet and anise truffle.

Also in the box is the delicate-looking Cosmic Love Potion truffle, made with a love elixir created by local herbalist Christa Hebal. "The recipe literally came to her in a dream," says Jael, who adds that the potion is also available bottled at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

The honey-based elixir contains ginseng, damiana, ginger, rose, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean and kava. "We add the love potion to a milk chocolate ganache, cover it with white chocolate and adorn with an organic pink rose petal," says Jael.

So, is the truffle like cupid's bow in edible form? That depends on who's eating it, says Jael. "Aphrodisiacs are kind of in the eye of the beholder. Some people need stimulation and some people need to relax, so what produces the right result is really individual," adds Jael. "But it's still a fun subject to talk about."

Baby, I like it raw

UliMana Chocolate specializes in raw chocolate, and that translates to healthier chocolate, says owner Teresa Green — which may mean even more of the mood-lifting medicine that chocolate provides.

UliMana mixes fat-rich cacao powder from Bali with Peruvian cacao that has a deep chocolate flavor, says Green. "When we blend the two we get the perfect combination," she says.

So what is raw chocolate? Raw chocolate is dried naturally instead of roasted, explains Green. "When they harvest the cacao bean, they lay it in the sun and it goes through its own natural fermentation process. It takes a couple of weeks, whereas chocolate that you would normally eat in a candy bar is heated to high temperatures."

Heat changes the molecular structure of things, says Green, meaning that some of the nutrients are lost. Raw chocolate, however, packs more of a vitamin and antioxidant punch, she says. "It's definitely healthier when you eat it that way," says Green. That translates to an amplified response from the body.

"In cacao, there is a lot of magnesium, which is the main mineral the heart needs, which is why I believe chocolate is seen as a love food — it feeds the heart," says Green. "When you eat it, you automatically feel openness in that part of the body."

Chocolate is also rich in phenylethylamine, also known as PEA or the "love molecule," says Green. It's also rich in anandamides, aka "bliss chemicals." That explains why chocolate cravings can strike strongly when the body needs a boost of those mood helpers.

"Chocolate has a lot of psychoactive ingredients in it, and that's what makes it a natural mood elevator," Green says. "And our chocolate is more like medicine, really."

So it's like love medicine? "Yes! And we could use more heart energy in this world, so it's a good thing."

And, she adds, "If you're buying chocolate for a person that you really love, wouldn't you want to give them something that is healthy instead of something that's bad for them?"

Nothing but chocolate

The makers of Black Mountain Chocolate consider themselves to be “explorers into the world of cacao.” David Mason, the founder of Black Mountain Chocolate is a purist of sorts, importing and roasting his own cacao. The process is enough to make the heart of any chocolate lover flutter.

“We make our chocolate from the bean. We import the beans ourselves and roast them here. We're one of a handful in the country and the only one in the mountains making it from the bean.”

So it comes as no surprise that the chocolatier does not currently sell chocolate enhanced with aphrodisiacs or herbal elixers. “Chocolate, in itself, is an aphrodisiac,” he says. “It has mood-enhancing qualities, to say the least.”

This year, Black Mountain Chocolate will offer chocolate online as always, as well as host a Chocolate Maker's Market at the chocolate factory (131 South Avenue in Swannanoa) on Saturday, Jan 22. Sounds so very Willy Wonka. The market will last from 9 a.m. until noon, when Mason and company will pack it up and head to south Asheville's Appalachian Vintner. There, Black Mountain Chocolate will host a chocolate and wine tasting from 3 until 7 p.m., and will have chocolate for sale as well.

Still crazy (for chocolate) after all of these years

We couldn’t leave out The Chocolate Fetish — the local chocolate shop has sold its brand of award-winning chocolates on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville since 1986. A renovation last year added a good deal of extra room, providing for more space for Valentine’s-appropriate goods, more gawking room for the chocolate-lovers and shorter lines.

The chocolate shop’s Ecstasy Truffle line is full of aphrodisiacs like the cayenne in the lightly spicy Ancient Pleasures truffle, and a sumptuous confection enriched with French red wine and essence of rose.

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