Chocolate Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Discussion in 'Food and nutrition' started by The Chocolate A, Dec 16, 2003.

  1. Archive-name: food/chocolate/faq
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    Last-modified: 23 Jan 1998
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    This FAQ is posted on the sixth day of every month. The most recent copy of this document can be
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    === CONTENTS === (+ = sections changed since last edition)

    . The Not-So-Fine-Print

    1. General
    2.1 What is chocolate?
    3.2 What is the history of chocolate?
    4.3 How is chocolate made?
    5.4 What is conching?
    6.5 What kinds of chocolate are there?
    7.6 What is this white, blotchy stuff on my chocolate bar?
    8.7 I just bought a whole bunch of chocolate. What's the best way to store it?
    9.8 What is lecithin and why is it in my chocolate?

    10. Cooking with chocolate
    11.1 What is tempering?
    12.2 What is couverture?
    13.3 How do I melt chocolate and what's the best kind to use?
    14.4 I was melting some chocolate, and suddenly it changed from a shiny, smooth liquid to a dull,
    thick paste. What happened?
    15.5 How do I make chocolate covered strawberries?
    16.6 Where can I get some chocolate?

    17. Chocolate trivia
    18.1 Hey! Did you hear about this lady at Neiman Marcus who wanted to buy a cookie recipe...?
    19.2 Is chocolate really an aphrodisiac?
    20.3 Can I give chocolate to my dog?
    21.4 How much caffeine is in chocolate?
    22.5 Doesn't chocolate cause acne?


    . The Not-So-Fine Print This document is intended to provide answers for some common questions
    posted to It is by no means comprehensive. Discussion on any topic discussed in
    this FAQ is certainly encouraged. Additions or corrections are always welcome. This document was
    compiled by Monee Kidd <[email protected]>, to whom questions, comments, queries, concerns, additions,
    corrections and/or deletions should be directed. Flames should be directed to dev/null. Most
    answers were gathered from posts to Many thanks to the many people who help
    make this FAQ a reality. In addition, some background information was shamelessly lifted from The
    World Book Encyclopedia [(c) 1983. so what, it's an old version, I know]. This FAQ is Copyright (C)
    1997 by Monee C. Kidd. This text, in whole or in part, may not be published in print, or sold in
    any medium, including, but not limited to, electronic or CD-ROM without the explicit, written
    consent of Monee Kidd.


    23. General

    A reader of the old once asked:

    "I would be very much obliged if someone could tell me how a food that has been associated
    with acne, headaches, obesity and many a trip to the dentist has managed to attract so much
    favorable attention."

    In the eighteenth century a Swedish naturalist named Carolus Linneaus who created the modern
    system of naming all the living things on the earth called the tree from which chocolate
    comes 'Cacao theobroma' - Cacao, food of the gods. For centuries, the world has had a sweet
    love affair with this most delectable of foods. Why *does* this sweet confection have so
    many admirers? Perhaps we should start at the beginning...


    24.1 What is chocolate? Where does it come from?

    Chocolate is a food made from the seeds of a tropical tree called the cacao. These trees
    flourish in warm, moist climates. Most of the world's cacao beans come from West Africa,
    where Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria are the largest producers. Because of a spelling
    error, probably by English traders long ago, these beans became known as cocoa beans.


    25.2 What is the history of chocolate?

    (Excerpted with permission from the Godiva WWW site)

    * In 600 A.D. the Mayans migrated into the northern regions of South America, establishing the
    earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. It has been argued that the Mayans had been
    familiar with cocoa several centuries prior to this date. They considered it a valuable commodity,
    used both as a means of payment and as units of calculation.

    * Mayans and Aztecs took beans from the "cacao" tree and made a drink they called "xocolatl." Aztec
    Indian legend held that cacao seeds had been brought from Paradise and that wisdom and power came
    from eating the fruit of the cacao tree..

    * The word "chocolate" is said to derive from the Mayan "xocolatl"; cacao from the Aztec
    "cacahuatl". The Mexican Indian word "chocolate" comes from a combination of the terms choco
    ("foam") and atl ("water"); early chocolate was only consumed in beverage form.

    * Christopher Columbus is said to have brought back cacao beans to King Ferdinand from his
    fourth visit to the New World, but they were overlooked in favor of the many other treasures
    he had found.

    * Chocolate was first noted in 1519 when Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez visited the court of
    Emperor Montezuma of Mexico. American historian William Hickling's History of the Conquest of
    Mexico (1838) reports that Montezuma "took no other beverage than the chocolatl, a potation of
    chocolate, flavored with vanilla and spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the
    consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth and was taken cold." The fact that
    Montezuma consumed his "chocolatl" in goblets before entering his harem led to the belief that it
    was an aphrodisiac.

    * The first chocolate house was reputedly opened in London in 1657 by a Frenchman. Costing 10 to 15
    shillings per pound, chocolate was considered a beverage for the elite class. Sixteenth-century
    Spanish historian Oviedo noted: "None but the rich and noble could afford to drink chocolatl as it
    was literally drinking money. Cocoa passed currency as money among all nations; thus a rabbit in
    Nicaragua sold for 10 cocoa nibs, and 100 of these seeds could buy a tolerably good slave."

    * Chocolate also appears to have been used as a medicinal remedy by leading physicians of the day.
    Christopher Ludwig Hoffmann's treatise Potus Chocolate recommends chocolate for many diseases,
    citing it as a cure for Cardinal Richelieu's ills.

    * With the Industrial Revolution came the mass production of chocolate, spreading its popularity
    among the citizenry.

    * Chocolate was introduced to the United States in 1765 when John Hanan brought cocoa beans from the
    West Indies into Dorchester, Massachusetts, to refine them with the help of Dr. James Baker. The
    first chocolate factory in the country was established there.

    * Yet, chocolate wasn't really accepted by the American colonists until fishermen from Gloucester,
    Massachusetts, accepted cocoa beans as payment for cargo in tropical America.

    * Where chocolate was mostly considered a beverage for centuries, and predominantly for men, it
    became recognized as an appropriate drink for children in the seventeenth century. It had many
    different additions: milk, wine, beer, sweeteners, and spices. Drinking chocolate was considered a
    very fashionable social event.

    * Eating chocolate was introduced in 1674 in the form of rolls and cakes, served in the various
    chocolate emporiums.

    * Nestle (The History of Chocolate and Cocoa, p. 3) declares that from 1800 to the present day,
    these four factors contributed to chocolate's "coming of age" as a worldwide food product:
    1. The introduction of cocoa powder in 1828;
    2. The reduction of excise duties;
    3. Improvements in transportation facilities, from plantation to factory;
    4. The invention of eating chocolate, and improvements in manufacturing methods.

    * The New York Cocoa Exchange, located at the World Trade Center, was begun October 1, 1925, so that
    buyers and sellers could get together for transactions.

    * In 1980 a story of chocolate espionage hit the world press when an apprentice of the Swiss company
    of Suchard-Tobler unsuccessfully attempted to sell secret chocolate recipes to Russia, China,
    Saudi Arabia, and other countries.

    * By the 1990s, chocolate had proven its popularity as a product, and its success as a big business.
    Annual world consumption of cocoa beans averages approximately 600,000 tons, and per capita
    chocolate consumption is greatly on the rise. Chocolate manufacturing in the United States is a
    multibillion-dollar industry. According to Norman Kolpas (1978, p. 106), "We have seen how
    chocolate progressed from a primitive drink and food of ancient Latin American tribes -- a part of
    their religious, commerce and social life -- to a drink favored by the elite of European society
    and gradually improved until it was in comparably drinkable and, later, superbly edible. We have
    also followed its complex transformation from the closely packed seeds of the fruit of an exotic
    tree to a wide variety of carefully manufactured cocoa and chocolate products. Beyond the
    historical, agricultural and commercial, and culinary sides to chocolate, others: affect on our
    health and beauty, and inspiration to literature and the arts."


    1.3 How is chocolate made?

    Workers cut the fruit of the cacao tree, or pods open and scoop out the beans. These beans
    are allowed to ferment and then dry. Then they are cleaned, roasted and hulled. Once the
    shells have been removed they are called nibs. Nibs are blended much like coffee beans, to
    produce different colors and flavors. Then they are ground up and the cocoa butter is
    released. The heat from the grinding process causes this mixture of cocoa butter and finely
    ground nibs to melt and form a free-flowing substance known as chocolate liquor. From there,
    different varieties of chocolate are produced.


    2.4 What is conching?

    Raw unprocessed chocolate is gritty, grainy and really not suitable for eating. Swiss
    chocolate manufacturer Rudolph Lindt <yes *that* Lindt for which the brand was named>
    discovered a process of rolling and kneading chocolate that gives it the smoother and richer
    quality that eating chocolate is known for today. The name 'conching' comes from the shell-
    like shape of the rollers used. The longer chocolate <and any ingredients added like milk,
    vanilla, extra cocoa butter> is conched, the more luxurious it will feel on your tongue.


    3.5 What kinds of chocolate are there?

    Depending on what is added to (or removed from) the chocolate liquor, different flavors and
    varieties of chocolate are produced. Each has a different chemical make-up, the differences
    are not solely in the taste. Be sure, therefore, to use the kind the recipe calls for, as
    different varieties will react differently to heat and moisture.

    * Unsweetened or Baking chocolate is simply cooled, hardened chocolate liquor. It is used
    primarily as an ingredient in recipes, or as a garnish.

    *Semi-sweet chocolate is also used primarily in recipes. It has extra cocoa butter and sugar
    added. Sweet cooking chocolate is basically the same, with more sugar for taste.

    * Milk chocolate is chocolate liquor with extra cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla added.
    This is the most popular form for chocolate. It is primarily an eating chocolate.

    * Cocoa is chocolate liquor with much of the cocoa butter removed, creating a fine powder.
    It can pick up moisture and odors from other products, so you should keep cocoa in a cool,
    dry place, tightly covered. There are several kinds of cocoa: ~ Low-fat cocoa has the most
    fat removed. It typically has less than ten percent cocoa butter remaining. ~ Medium-fat
    cocoa has anywhere from ten to twenty-two percent cocoa butter in it. ~ Drinking or
    Breakfast cocoa has over twenty-two percent left in it. This is the cocoa used in
    chocolate milk powders like Nestle's Quik. ~ Dutch process cocoa is cocoa which has been
    specially processed to neutralize the natural acids in the chocolate. It is slightly
    darker and has a much different taste than regular cocoa.

    * White chocolate is somewhat of a misnomer. In the United States, in order to be legally
    called 'chocolate' a product must contain cocoa solids. White chocolate does not contain
    these solids, which leaves it a smooth ivory or beige color. Real white chocolate is
    primarily cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla. There are some products on the market
    that call themselves white chocolate, but are made with vegetable oils instead of cocoa
    butter. Check the label to avoid these cheap imitations. White chocolate is the most
    fragile form of chocolate; pay close attention to it while heating or melting it.

    * Decorator's chocolate or confectioner's chocolate isn't really chocolate at all, but a
    sort of chocolate flavored candy used for things such as covering strawberries. It was
    created to melt easily and harden quickly, but it isn't chocolate. If you want quick
    and easy, use decorator's chocolate. If you want the real thing, use real chocolate
    and patience.


    1.6 What is this white, blotchy stuff on my chocolate bar?

    A white, filmy residue on chocolate is called a bloom. It occurs when some of the cocoa
    butter in the chocolate separates from the cocoa solids, usually when the chocolate is
    stored in a warm area. If you buy a chocolate bar and find it has bloomed, don't let the
    sales person convince you the taste has not been altered.


    2.7 I just bought a whole bunch of chocolate. How should I store it?

    Chocolate is best kept at around 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of a nice pantry
    or dark cabinet. Kept at this temperature, chocolate (assuming it isn't covering fruit or
    other perishables) has a shelf life of about a year. Freezing chocolate isn't such a great
    idea; when you freeze it, then thaw it out, it will have a greater tendency to bloom. but if
    you must, let it warm gradually to room temperature before you try cooking with it.


    3.8 What is lecithin and why is it in my chocolate?

    Lecithin is an emulsifier used to reduce the viscosity, or thickness of chocolate. Thinning
    out the chocolate slightly reduces the amount of cocoa butter required to produce the
    correct texture in the manufacturing process.


    4. Cooking with chocolate

    Chocolate is a very tricky food to cook with. Temperatures that are too high can scorch it,
    temperatures too low can cause it to harden unevenly. It must be watched very carefully. But
    if you can master the art, you can create some breathtaking desserts. Below are some things
    to know about cooking with chocolate.


    5.1 What is tempering? How can I temper chocolate at home?

    In order for chocolate to cool into a hard candy and not a mushy goo, it must be tempered.
    This is a process where the chocolate is slowly heated, then slowly cooled, allowing the
    cocoa butter molecules to solidify in an orderly fashion. The following is a pretty thorough
    method for tempering at home: (credit to Pete Lockhart, [email protected])

    Frankly, I've had decent luck with microwave ovens for melting the chocolate. It's an iterative
    process of nuking, stirring, nuking, stirring, etc. But I like the idea that the chocolate is not
    getting steamed as it is with a double boiler. You might try 15 seconds increments on high for a
    pound of chocolate. Keep an eye on the time as the chocolate gets into its melt; you may want to
    ramp it down some what.

    However, for either nuking or using a double boiler, it's not a bad idea to break up the chocolate
    into little pieces. For a double boiler be careful not to have the water boiling or touching the
    bottom of the upper vessel. It sounds from your description like you might have the heat cranked up
    too much, even given convection from the bottom vessel to the top. Be patient. Dark chocolate can be
    taken up to about 115 degrees F and milk chocolate can be taken up to 110 degrees F.

    Once you've gotten a complete melt, letting the chocolate cool slowly while stirring it or working
    it will encourage the cocoa butter to arrange itself in a way that is particularly useful for making
    candy. This is 'tempering' the chocolate.

    Turns out that cocoa butter molecules can arrange themselves in a variety of ways [six that I know
    of] and it is these different arrangements that determine the melting temperature of the chocolate.
    The respective melting temperatures range from about 60 degrees F to about 97 degrees F. The one
    you're looking to get is the most stable form, and has a melting temperature of 93 - 95 degrees F.
    Which is good, because it means that your chocolate will tend to be that way, as long as you're
    patient. It also means that the chocolate is going to feel delightfully cooling in your mouth.

    So, you've taken your chocolate up to 110 -115 degrees, and that has had the effect of breaking up
    [melting] all of the cocoa butter molecules. Now you want them to arrange themselves in a stable
    arrangement; but you also want to manipulate the chocolate now that it is a liquid.

    There are a couple of strategies for encouraging the cocoa butter into its stable arrangement. As
    mentioned above, stirring it or working it with a spatula will tend to bring about the proper
    'crystallization' of the cocoa butter molecules. Another technique is to 'seed' the molten chocolate
    by putting in little pieces of solid chocolate. The molten cocoa butter then will do a kind of follow-the-
    leader and arrange itself after the fashion of the solids. Which is what you want. The hazard with
    seeding your chocolate is that you might get little air pockets associated with the solid pieces. I
    tend to just stir the chocolate.

    Traditionally, small batch chocolate is tempered on marble slabs. Just pour it on and work it with a
    spatula until it becomes kind of slushy-mushy. I don't use a marble slab, I use a bowl that I can
    pop back into the microwave if I need to.

    The next tricky step is to maintain enough heat to keep the chocolate molten, but not heat it up so
    much that it forgets how to arrange itself. This is where the 85 - 90 degrees F comes in. [I think
    the heating pad idea sounds cool]. The marble slab will retain some of the heat. Be careful about
    using the same vessel in which you heated the chocolate. I know it's convenient, and that's what I
    do, you just gotta be more careful about over heating the chocolate.

    Overheating the chocolate will make the cocoa butter separate from the cocoa solids, and that's a
    bad thing. Indication that you're overheating the chocolate is either chocolate bloom in the
    hardened chocolate or out and out separation of cocoa butter in the chocolate soup.


    6.2 What is couverture?

    Couverture is a special kind of chocolate that has more cocoa butter than regular chocolate,
    anywhere from 33% to 38% for a really good brand. This type of chocolate is used as a
    coating for things like truffles ("couverture" is French for "covering") There are two ways
    of coating candies, either by hand dipping into melted chocolate or enrobing, gently pouring
    chocolate over the treat.


    7.3 How do I melt chocolate and what's the best kind to use?

    There are two ways to melt chocolate, in a double boiler or in a microwave:

    8. Double boiler method: A double boiler is basically two pots designed to fit together for
    melting wand warming fragile foods. The bottom pot holds a bit of water - never enough
    to touch the bottom of the second pot, the top holds the food, in this case chocolate.
    You should never place chocolate directly on a heat source, you run the risk of
    scorching it. Cut the chocolate up into small pieces, this will reduce the melting time.
    Adjust the heat so that the water in the bottom pot gets hot but doesn't begin to boil.
    Place the chocolate in the top pot and stir every so often. Dark and bittersweet
    chocolate are the most 'hardy' forms of chocolate, they will require less stirring than
    milk and white chocolates, which will burn very easily if you do not pay close

    9. Microwave method: Place chopped pieces of chocolate into a microwave proof bowl and heat
    it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl, stir what you can then return it to
    the microwave for another 30 seconds. Continue this until the chocolate is just about
    melted. You might be tempted to increase the time intervals, but remember that warmed
    chocolate will keep its shape, even if it is melted, unless it is stirred. Don't judge
    time on looks alone. When the chocolate is almost completely melted, remove it from the
    microwave and stir, letting the warmth of the bowl and surrounding chocolate complete
    the melting.

    Here are some suggestions for brands to use (from a post by from Pete again)

    _Cook's Illustrated_ Nov/Dec ['94] issue contains an article by Bishop and Meldrich that ranks the
    following chocolates in the following order. The evaluation was by a dozen or so refined Californian
    palates, so it should work for you.

    *Highly Recommended* Van Leer Bittersweet Chocolate #1121-115 (approx $4.00/lb) -- Chocolate Gallery
    @ 212-675-2253 Ghiradelli Semi-Sweet (approx $6.40/lb) -- Ghirradelli @ 800-877-9338 Callebaut
    Bittersweet (approx $9.00/lb) -- Williams-Sonoma @ 800-541-2233 Merckens Yucatan Classic Dark
    (approx $4.20/lb) -- A Cook's Wares @ 412-846-9490

    *Recommended* Guittard Gourmet Bittersweet Hawaiian Vintage Bittersweet Nestle's Semi-Sweet

    *Not Recommended* Vairhona Le Noir Gastronomie Bittersweet Lindt Surfin Baker's Semisweet Baking
    Hershey's Semi-Sweet Baking


    10.4 I was melting some chocolate, and suddenly it changed from a shiny, smooth liquid to a dull,
    thick paste. What happened?

    As discussed before, chocolate is very sensitive. Any slight variance from the instructions
    can cause disastrous results. What you have described here is called seizing. Seizing can
    happen for several reasons:

    11. The chocolate is burned. Even temperatures that aren't too hot for your finger can be
    too hot for chocolate. When melting chocolate, keep the heat low and keep stirring,
    especially for milk and white chocolates.

    12. A *small* amount of moisture has been added. Chocolate is very finicky about liquids.
    Even the moisture from a damp spoon can contaminate a batch of melting chocolate. This
    is what happens after a while to chocolate fondue - moisture from strawberries or cheese
    can ruin the texture. Be careful if you are melting pure chocolate by itself to keep
    everything very dry.

    13. Cool liquids have been added. Another oddity about chocolate: small amounts of liquid
    can spoil melted chocolate, but large amounts are
    o.k., so long as the liquid is warmed to match the temperature of the melted chocolate. If you
    add cold cream or milk, for example, the chocolate will begin to solidify and you'll end up
    with a mess.

    Regardless of how your chocolate gets seized, you'll have to throw it out and start again. There is
    no way to "un-seize" and remelt chocolate once it has been contaminated in this way.


    2.5 How do I make chocolate covered strawberries?

    Covering strawberries is not an easy task, but if you exercise a little patience, you can
    come up with an excellent dessert treat. The main thing to remember: Make sure the
    strawberries are _DRY_. Remember, even the slightest moisture can ruin an entire batch of
    chocolate. If it's a real humid day, wait until tomorrow, you'll have better success.
    Prepare a cookie sheet or other flat surface with wax paper, small enough to fit into your
    refrigerator. Lay your *dry* strawberries out on a plate. Melt some chocolate, following the
    steps outlined above. Holding each strawberry by the stem, dip it into the chocolate and
    place it on the wax paper. If the chocolate gets too thick, return it to the heat,
    carefully. Place the finished strawberries in the refrigerator and allow them to cool. This
    is probably the best place to keep them; unless you are sure you've tempered your chocolate
    well, the chocolate will melt at room temperature. Some people choose to add a bit of
    baker's wax or paraffin to the chocolate. This is an edible substance that also helps to
    keep the chocolate solid at room temperature. Purely a subjective move, not necessary.


    3.6 Where can I get some chocolate?

    There is a complete document entitled CHOCOLATE RESOURCES, posted as part two of this FAQ. It
    contains an extensive list of chocolate retailers on the internet, as well as cookbooks, recipe
    archives and other offline resources.


    4. Chocolate trivia

    Chocolate has been the subject of many stories and myths throughout history. Some are based
    on fact, others are apocryphal. Some common ones are unraveled here.


    5.1 Hey! Did you hear about this lady at Neiman Marcus who wanted to buy a chocolate chip cookie

    Stop right there. The story to which you are referring is completely false. Unfortunately
    it's been floating around since the 1980's and simply will not die. Here's is the official
    story on this tale:

    Title: HEARD THE ONE ABOUT THE $250 COOKIE RECIPE? Categories: Desserts Yield: 1 servings

    No Ingredients

    by Daniel P. Puzo, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    Fresh from a downtown Los Angeles bar, a sometime consumer gadfly arrived at The Times with a hot
    tip about yet another case of corporate callousness and greed.

    Brandishing a photocopied letter, she claimed a famous department store, in a sneaky and underhanded
    manner, had charged an unsuspecting patron an outrageous sum for a recipe- the company's popular
    chocolate chip cookie.

    The actual victim was apparently an unnamed, but credible, Beverly Hills matron.

    The single-page letter was full of indignation as it vividly described the incident and even
    contained exact dialogue of the transgression.

    It began: "My daughter and I finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas and decided to have a
    small dessert. Because our family members are such 'cookie monsters' we decided to try the Neiman-
    Marcus Cookie. It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe, and they said with
    a small frown, 'I'm afraid not.' Well, I said, 'Would you let me buy the recipe?' With a cute smile
    she said, 'Yes.' I asked how much and she responded 'two fifty.' I said with approval, 'Just add it
    to my tab,' which I had already signed." The letter continued: "Thirty days later I received my Visa
    statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285. I looked again, and I remembered I had only spent
    $9.95 for two salads and about $20 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it
    said, 'Cookie Recipe- $250.00' Boy, was I upset!"

    The letter goes on to state that, in the spirit of revenge, the unnamed victim was providing all
    interested parties the $250 recipe at no charge. Knowing a good story from the start, The Times made
    several unsuccessful attempts to discover the identity of the aggrieved Beverly Hills party. The
    story was eventually forgotten, as is normally the case when nothing checks out.

    But then a respected Boston-based newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, distributed an article
    throughout the United States that retold the tale of the egregious recipe overcharge, with
    incredibly similar detail, adding a condemning "fie upon Neiman Marcus." The cookie recipe caper
    thus got a new life.

    Now, after a lengthy investigation, the facts are unearthed:
    + Neiman Marcus does not sell recipes from its restaurants. The department store gives them away for
    free to anyone who asks.
    + There is no "Neiman Marcus Cafe" at any of the chains three Dallas-area stores. Instead, the
    restaurants are named Zodiac, Zodiac at North Park and The Woods.
    + Neiman Marcus does not sell or serve cookies at any of its restaurants.
    + There is no such thing as a "Neiman-Marcus Cookie." (And Neiman Marcus no longer has a hyphen in
    its title.)
    + Neiman Marcus does not take Visa.
    + The fashion cognoscenti would know immediately that you cannot buy a scarf at Neiman Marcus for
    $20 as the letter writer stated. Scarf prices start at $40 and quickly run as high as $215.

    How did this rumor get started?

    Pat Zajac, Neiman Marcus spokesperson in Dallas, said that the tall tale has been circulating since
    she came to work for the chain in 1986. The first newspaper story she saw on the bogus cookie recipe
    appeared in 1988.

    Zajac said that in the past few weeks, her office has been swamped with calls from the media trying
    to verify the story. She speculates that the letter recently has been circulating on electronic
    services like some "computer virus."

    Needless to say, Neiman Marcus is not pleased with the rumor's persistence or tone.

    "We are concerned," said Zajac. "We like to think we are accommodating to customers and provide
    value at a fair price and quality at the same time. We want to create good will. . . . No one has
    ever showed us a bill where they were wrongly charged [for a chocolate chip recipe]. If they ever
    appear then we would be happy to look at the [disputed] charge."

    Zajac explained that Neiman Marcus, as one of the nation's leading department stores, is proud of
    its customer service record and would quickly satisfy someone who had been incorrectly billed.

    "The interesting thing in this phenomena is that no one ever knows the exact source of this letter.
    The information is anywhere between third- and 17th-hand information. There has never been a Neiman
    Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that we sold for $250. Never." When it comes to signature
    dishes, Neiman Marcus is most famous for its Orange Souffle Ring and its Caramel Souffle Ring.
    (Anyone interested in getting a copy of these recipes- free of charge- can write to: Neiman Marcus
    Food Service Division, 1618 Main St., Dallas, TX 75201.)

    The Neiman Marcus Cookie caper is remarkably similar to another rumor that circulated several years
    ago about the recipe for Mrs. Fields' Chocolate Chip Cookies. And veterans of the food world say the
    story formula goes back to the 1930s, when a similar tale was told about the Waldorf Astoria's Red
    Velvet Cake.

    A student of rumors, or urban myths, said that the Neiman Marcus incident meets many of the
    requirements for sustaining a bogus story. Chaytor Mason, USC professor of human factors-psychology
    said that the subject of a rumor is usually famous or attractive. And while circulating a fiction
    via an anonymous letter is somewhat unusual, it makes sense because "generally we place more value
    and validity on anything we read."


    3.2 Is chocolate really an aphrodisiac?

    Chocolate is the traditional gift of love, ranking right up there with roses as the most
    romantic gift one can give. But is it really an aphrodisiac? There is some evidence that the
    answer might be yes. Chocolate contains three substances, caffeine, theobromine and
    phenyethylamine that might be related to this myth. Caffeine acts as a stimulant.
    Theobromine stimulates the heart muscle and the nervous system. And phenyethylamine is
    reputed <no conclusive proof exists yet> to be a mood elevator and an anti-depressant. The
    combination of these three substances, giving you extra energy, making your heart beat
    faster, making you a bit jumpy and slightly giddy....well, you can see how chocolate could
    be linked to love. In fact, Montezuma used to drink a frothy chocolate beverage before going
    to visit one of his wives. But before you go out to buy several cases of chocolate to ply
    your lover with tonight, remember that these substances show up only in small quantities in


    4.3 Can I give chocolate to my dog (cat, bird, other pet)?

    Unequivocally, no. The theobromine in chocolate that stimulates the cardiac and nervous
    systems is too much for dogs, especially smaller pups. A chocolate bar is poisonous to dogs
    and can even be lethal. The same holds true for cats, and other household pets.


    5.4 How much caffeine is in chocolate?

    Although there is less caffeine in chocolate that there is in a cup of coffee, people who
    are avoiding caffeine should unfortunately stay away from chocolate as well. There are about
    30 milligrams of caffeine in your average chocolate bar, while a cup of coffee contains
    around 100 to 150 milligrams. For more information on the specifics of caffeine in
    chocolate, consult the Caffeine FAQ, available on the WWW at


    6.5 Doesn't chocolate cause acne?

    This is another myth about chocolate. While some people might be allergic to chocolate, or
    some of its ingredients, the belief that chocolate causes acne universally has been
    disproven by doctors for some time.

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    (C) 1996-1998 by Monee Kidd