Easter is a time of celebration and sharing. A time to enjoy good times with family and friends. It’s also a time for Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies – so enjoy good chocolate in moderation. Savour small tastes and remember that less is often more!
By Jeremy Ryland
Earlier this week, I wrote about Special occasional foods. I believe we are losing some of our special occasion foods due to commercialisation, like hot cross buns, which have been available for four months, and how this can contribute to the obesity problems.
Well, did you know that Australia is one of the world’s leaders in chocolate Easter egg consumption? No wonder we have a weight problem! And a bit like the loss of special food occasions, many people no longer associate Easter eggs with Easter! For example, according to the Daily Mail, although 43 per cent of British people have no idea what Easter commemorates, 75 per cent of the population bought Easter eggs last year.
Hot cross buns
So a little history – as I believe if you understand the history and origins of what you eat, it makes the experience better.
Hot cross buns or Easter buns were traditionally served on Good Friday only. Hot cross buns at Easter are a metaphor for the resurrection of Christ: flour comes to life and transforms itself into bread. But hot cross buns actually pre-date Christianity. They were originally used in pagan ceremonies and rituals - a pagan symbol. The cross represents the quarters of the moon and the spring equinox. The Christian Church attempted to ban them. But they were just too popular so the Church eventually 'Christianised' the buns.
Easter eggs are also a pagan ritual. Eggs are a symbol of fertility and rebirth associated with the Druids and Stonehenge and the rites celebrating the spring equinox. Easter predates Christianity. The name comes from the ancient pagan goddess of spring, Eastre or Eostre, whose festival of new birth and growth was held at the vernal equinox. And as with other pagan festivals, the celebration was amalgamated into a Christian festival, although many of the ancient traditions remain. The rules of Lent forbade the eating of eggs, and the giving and receiving of eggs at the end of the fasting period became a custom and a celebration. The rabbit was held as the symbol of fecundity, a necessity to the ancients to continue the circle of life, whilst eggs represent new life at springtime.
In ancient Europe, the earliest Easter eggs were real eggs. Hen, duck and goose eggs were painted and decorated, a practice that is still carried on today in some countries. Artificial eggs made from wood and cardboard evolved as Easter gifts in the 17th and 18th century culminating in the fabulous jewel-encrusted Faberge eggs from Russia.
Chocolate Easter eggs
Chocolate was brought to Europe from South America in the 16th century. But chocolate is a complex and difficult product to work with, and it wasn’t until about 100 years ago that modern chocolate making processes were developed that enabled the chocolate Easter egg to become the gift of choice.
The first chocolate eggs occurred in Germany and France in the early 1800s. Most of these were solid and it was the British confectionary company JS Fry & Sons, that in 1873, developed a process that allowed chocolatiers to mould chocolate into different shapes, reducing the cost and making the products readily available.
Good chocolate is made with natural cocoa butter and has a high cocoa content with a smooth fine texture. High-quality dark chocolate contains antioxidants, minerals and chemicals that may actually be good for you – in moderate amounts. Chocolate contains tryptophan, which is used by the brain to make serotonin, a chemical that produces feelings of happiness. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine which is an antidepressant that promotes feelings of attraction, excitement and nervousness; and is associated with the euphoria of falling in love.
However, modern chocolate bars, Easter eggs, etc., also contain a lot of sugar, which is contributing to our obesity epidemic. It is estimated that over two-thirds of Australian adults are either overweight or obese. It’s not the sales of Easter eggs that make obesity expensive but the associated medical costs. Obesity, associated with poor eating habits, costs the Australian community some $120 billion each year.
Australian’s will spend around $210 million on chocolate this Easter, estimated to be about one large block of chocolate for every person. That’s a lot of chocolate and there are many people suggesting that we should ban chocolate and/or do something different, such as go back to decorating real eggs, in order to try and combat the growing obesity problems. But banning the Easter bunny or eliminating Easter eggs are not the solution.
There is no such thing as a bad food – just bad eating habits, and the issue is not with the chocolate, but with the fact that it is now readily available all-year-round and is no longer regarded as a treat. If we eat a little less and go back to treating some of the traditional foods with respect as a special treat, then we will all be better off.
So, take it easy. Enjoy good chocolate in moderation. Savour small tastes and put some away for later.
Happy Easter to all!