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La Dolce Vita

Chocolate Cosmos

Carol Stocks looks at the sweet side of life

Known the world over, the Italian phrase 'La Dolce Vita' describes a luxurious, self-indulgent lifestyle and could easily be interpreted as the motto under which all hedonists unite. Translated as 'the sweet life', it delivers the perfect excuse to indulge in something sweet whenever life turns sour. When the stress of everyday routine takes it toll, kicking the cat and throwing the best china at the wall simply doesn't help. Turn to chocolate and your worries melt away as you drift into another world.

We all have a preferred chocolate 'tipple', one that soothes the situation as we wallow in self-pity and seek time out. While the local shops offer a range of undeniably delicious products, none ever seems to match our favourite chocolate tranquilliser. In times of need I turn to Galaxy, which for me is the ultimate cocoa-based experience. Unfortunately, it's made in England and isn't widely available here in Germany, so I tend to stockpile at every opportunity. The dilemma comes, though, when with frayed nerves and furrowed brow I dive for my secret hoard only to find it depleted. I could take the half-hour train ride to Cologne, the nearest source, but in times of stress what's needed is a quick clandestine trip to chocolate heaven. There has to be a better way.

It's perhaps with comfort seekers like me in mind that the makers of bodycare and homecare products have discovered chocolate's soothing properties. Self-indulgence is no longer just a matter of running a bath, lighting a candle and wallowing in warm water while munching soft-centres. Now so much more than an edible treat, chocolate has advanced to something we add to the bath water, coat ourselves with or use to scent our homes. Heaven is now chocolate-coloured, textured and scented. It comes in the form of candles, bath foams, body lotions, face packs, shampoos and hair conditioners, room sprays and fragrance oils – all promising to soothe the senses while sparing the side-effects of eating the real thing.

For those who like digging rather than dipping, chocolate has its rightful place in the garden. Nature considerately provides a range of reasons to nip outdoors for a breath of chocolate-scented air. Better known as Chocolate cosmos, the border perennial Cosmos atrosanguineus has browny-red petals and a scent that instantly brings a cup of steaming hot chocolate to mind. For those who prefer climbers, there's Akebia quinata or chocolate vine as it is commonly known. It produces an array of attractive chocolate-purple flowers and gives off an irresistible milk chocolate scent that will have you going up the wall in a way very different to the stress-induced one that sparked your craving for chocolate in the first place.

This all leads me to question whether it is simply the scent that counts. I for one am not convinced. What about the taste, the texture and the sheer unadulterated pleasure of letting chocolate melt in your mouth? Psychologists have long reported on chocolate's mood-lifting properties, although they do put these down not to the beneficial anti-oxidants it contains (the dosage being too low to be of any significance) but to two very basic things: the soothing sensation of eating chocolate at emotionally charged times and our inborn preference for sweet-tasting foods that are easy to eat.

As far as I'm concerned, the pseudo-chocolate trip just doesn't cut the mustard (chocolate-flavoured or otherwise) and I could never be truly content just with scent. When it comes to frazzled nerves and a craving for something sweet, I need a treat I can eat. Chocolate is quite simply mood food and, as the makers of Galaxy once claimed in an aptly-worded advertising slogan, "Why have cotton when you can have silk?" My sentiments exactly.

2005-11-29 by Carol Stocks
Text: © Carol Stocks
Banner: © Angelika Petrich-Hornetz

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