Text by Margit Biztray | Photo by Adrian Hughes -

Whether you let it melt on your tongue, chew it up or lick it off your ice cream, there’s something about chocolate that most of us can’t resist. Read on to find out a little more about our eternal love affair with everyone’s favorite sweet.

Hershey’s syrup squirted into a glass of milk. Warm Tollhouse cook- ies. Andes mints pilfered from the host stand. Homemade chocolate fondue. The list goes on and on, but one thing remains constant as the main ingredient: Chocolate.

Our love of chocolate begins early in life, and whether it evolves to encompass fancy truffles and fondant cakes or not, something about chocolate always appeals to the irrational, youthful side of life. Recent reports about health benefits — antioxidants, flavonoids and mood-enhancing chemicals — have been mostly disproved by more recent reports that the negatives of fat and sugar outweigh the positives of chocolate’s more pristine properties, but many still consider it part of a well-balanced diet. Many, in fact, can’t imagine a day without a chocolate fix. It’s one of the few foods attached at the hip to the word “craving” that is considered medicinal, if not for the body, then abso- lutely for the spirit and mood. Chocolate, simply stated, makes us happy.

It’s also big business these days. Following in the footsteps of coffee, beer and wine, chocolate is one of today’s affordable luxuries and self-indulgences (face it, even the priciest chocolate costs less than jewelry). Like the gourmet food market in general, that for “European-style” chocolate (hand-crafted in small batches, with high-quality ingredients and high cacao content) is growing incrementally by the year, the fastest segment of the chocolate mar- ket. Even commercial brands like Hershey’s and Dove recently introduced gourmet lines, and luxury purveyors like Godiva added premium varieties, with price tags to match. Exclusive brands have added experimental flavors that would have been unheard of a few years ago, like olive oil, tumeric and

wasabi. High-quality chocolates not only taste different — rich, well-bal- anced and natural — they even appear and sound different. Look for an even, glistening sheen, and listen for a fresh snap when the chocolate is broken. Labels that will not disappoint include Fauchon at Food Gang in Surfside, Patchi at Dadeland Mall, Romanico’s on Coral Way and Joy of Life organic chocolate at Whole Foods.

Brought to you by pre-Columbian civilizations like the Mayans and Aztecs, chocolate is the extraction of fermented, roasted and ground beans from the pods of the cacao tree. Ancient people drank it mixed with water. Without the sugar, milk and vanilla we’re used to, it would be almost unrecognizable (and unpalatable) to most people today. The flavor spread to Europe when Her- nando Cortez offered it among the pilfered treasures he carried back to Spain. Once reserved for royalty and clergy, chocolate spread in popularity and made its way into the hearts of the world. It is America’s favorite flavor, trailed by vanilla. And though 70 percent of Americans still prefer milk chocolate to dark, the latter is gaining ground. Despite the fact that dark or bittersweet chocolate has a higher cacao content and less sugar, there are health benefits associated with darker, purer bars that aren’t found in your average candy bar — should you be looking to justify your chocolate fix.

We may not inherit a factory as Charlie Bucket did from Willy Wonka, or charm Johnny Depp as Juliet Binoche did in the movie Chocolat, but from the moment it melts on the tongue, chocolate evokes all the delights, romance and fantasy it has had since the days of Montezuma. This February, feel free to start, or rekindle, a love affair with chocolate. You won’t regret it.