Have you ever wondered what makes the chocolate chip cookie so famous? Why the top secret recipes? How have they achieved iconic status synonymous with the perfect childhood? But, ultimately, why chocolate chip and not oatmeal raisin or snicker doodle or even peanut butter? Well, what if I told you that there is some scientific reasoning behind why these chocolate-studded delicacies beckon to us…
Just like vitamins and minerals, foods also contain certain chemical molecules that can interact with the various cells in our body and even permeate the brain. Housed in the brain are specialized cells called neurons, which send and receive signals that work to control our movements and emotions. Given that these cells encompass our main control center, it’s not surprising then that they must be tightly regulated in order to maintain proper body function.
How is this level of regulation achieved? Neurons receive signals from naturally occurring molecules called neurotransmitters, which are able to activate the brain cell like flipping on a switch. Similar to a lock and key system (refer to the figure below), each neurotransmitter (key) has a specific structure, which can then bind and “unlock” certain receptors (lock) that are found on the neuron’s surface. In this way, neurons are only turned ON after a certain neurotransmitter binds to it’s receptor. In order to turn the neuron OFF, additional enzymes found in the body promote the removal (via degradation/breakdown) of the neurotransmitter molecule.
After we know how a certain receptor looks, synthetic drugs can be designed to fit and activate these same neurons. For example, the opiate receptor binds a group of naturally occurring molecules called the enkephalins. The drug morphine shares a similar structure with this family of molecules and therefore, can also key into this receptor. Importantly, the structure of morphine is highly stable (more resistant to breakdown in the body) and therefore, results in a stronger activation of the opiate receptor and a more intense response.
So, what does this have to do with chocolate chip cookies? Remarkably, several years ago scientists found that chocolate contains anandamide, a naturally occurring molecule that activates the cannabinoid (THC) or “Bliss” receptor. Even better, chocolate was also shown to contain 2 additional molecules that closely resemble anandamide’s structure and were found to prevent the breakdown of anandamide, resulting in a more stable interaction between lock and key. The scientists went on to speculate that one potential reason why we enjoy chocolate so much is because it can mimic a sort of euphoric “high”, albeit to a much lesser extent than that achieved with THC.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that my post today does not intend to suggest that chocolate chip cookies should be placed on the gateway drug list. However, I am simply offering some of the interesting science which may help to explain why we open a bag of cookies after a bad day and why we continue to reach for the plate in the hopes of re-creating that first, blissful bite.
This recipe was modified from Elana’s Pantry, the original recipe can be found here. I found that her recipe yields a crispier cookie, whereas this recipe created a softer, fluffier cookie. Since preferred cookie texture is completely determined by the individual (I was a Chip’s Ahoy Soft Batch kind of kid), I suggest you try both to compare. Importantly, both batches were gobbled up in a day…see, no one can resist a chocolate chip cookie.
Nikki’s Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 cups of almond flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¹⁄³ cup organic palm oil shortening (I use Spectrum’s Organic All Vegetable Shortening)
- 2 tbsp honey, warmed or melted
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp pure almond extract (I added this on a whim and loved it…for a more traditional cookie taste feel free to omit the almond extract and add a touch more vanilla)
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350°F, line cookie sheet with parchment
- Sift the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the shortening, honey, eggs and extracts (Warming the honey helps to melt the shortening and aid in the mixing, just be careful that the honey isn’t too hot or else…you end up with scrambled eggs in your cookie batter)
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until combined
- Add in your chocolate chips (SB thinks more chocolate chips should be added…but I’ll leave that up to your own personal preference)
- Using a teaspoon, scoop the batter into small mounds and place on cookie sheet
- Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the tops of the cookies start to brown
Nutritional info (1 cookie): 139 calories, 6g carb, 12g fat, 3g protein, 2g fiber
- Brain cannabinoids in chocolate. E. di Tomaso, M. Beltramo, D. Piomelli, Nature, 382, 677-8 (1996).
- Researchers say chocolate triggers feel-good chemicals (CNN, Linda Ciampa)