Cravings for Chocolate

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Because many people, especially women, experience cravings for chocolate that border on the symptoms of addiction, it has been thought that chocolate might contain psychoactive chemicals. Chocolate does turn out to contain both “cannabinoid” chemicals—chemicals similar to the active ingredient in marijuana—as well as other molecules that cause brain cells to accumulate cannabinoid chemicals. But these are present in extremely small amounts that probably have no practical significance. Similarly, chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring body chemical that has amphetamine-like effects—but then so do sausages and other fermented foods. In fact there is good experimental evidence that chocolate does not contain any drug-like substances capable of inducing a true addiction. Psychologists have shown that chocolate cravings can be satisfied by imitations that have no real chocolate in them, while these cravings are not satisfied by capsules of genuine cocoa powder or chocolate that are swallowed without tasting. It appears to be the sensory experience of eating chocolate, no more and no less, that is powerfully appealing.