You know that TV detective drama, The Closer, that went off air a few years ago and became just another crime drama? In it, Detective Brenda Leigh Johnson spends every episode solving a murder using scattered clues, mostly in her head, and then wrings a confession out of the murder suspect at the end. Welln, I'm exactly like Brenda Leigh, in that we both have secret stashes of chocolate in our drawers to gnash on when we get stressed. Because writing and Japanese translation is just as tough as crime solving! All jokes aside, why do some people munch on chocolate in stressful situations? When I first found out about GABA, Glico's self-proclaimed, "Mental Balance Chocolate," I felt I had solved at least part of the mystery.
It's all about the chemicals, baby! GABA actually stands for Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid, which as any quick Wiki search will tell you, is a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain and often acts as an inhibitor, reducing excitability in certain parts of the brain. And according to this article, regular-ol' chocolate already has some GABA, although maybe not enough to reduce stress in people, my experience non-withstanding. So it seems that Glico decided to up the dosage quite a bit!
While cocoa has approximately 52 mg of GABA per 100 grams of cacao (see article above), two packs of GABA Chocolate boast about 280 mg in the same amount! But the question is, does GABA-enhanced chocolate actually work to reduce stress? According to the previous article, as well as this government study measuring stress levels while ingesting GABA chocolate before doing math and this article, where some of the researchers involved in the study challenge GABA chocolate-enhanced humans to walk across a bridge, the answer is yes: It seems that more GABA equals less stress! But does it equal more fun for your taste buds?
Because my life is so very hard, I've been asked to sample both varieties and tell you what I think. Upon popping a cube of GABA Milk Chocolate into my mouth, my first impression is actually of caramel — the smooth, satiny kind that doesn't stick to your mouth but rather allows you to savor the flavor as it melts away, slow and satisfying. It's sweet without being cloying, and it surprises me because I only need one or two of the little guys to feel I've had enough. Not that I object to eating more — which I do, by the way — but it's just good to know I can stop. My wife says she can taste other, more chemical-y flavors in there, but to me, that's just the taste of childhood!
If GABA Milk Chocolate makes me feel like a kid, GABA Bitter Chocolate reminds me that I'm a grown-up. Like most adults I know, it keeps the true flavor of its personality beneath the surface until you get to know it a little — and after that, the experience is quite deep. The more you suck on it, the more fundamentally chocolatey it becomes—but it's an understated taste that sticks with you, begging for a coffee to go with it. Whichever flavor you choose, you can't go wrong — unlike the big, honking chocolate bars that Brenda Leigh keeps in her drawer, GABA chocolates come in much smaller "Oyatsu" snack packs that help you guard against overeating — each at only 290 kcal per pack. So now that we've solved the mystery of GABA Chocolate's stress-reducing powers, we can get down to the fun of just eating it.