I'll do just about anything for chocolate. I'm highly addicted to the substance, but have found no support groups for my illness (other than a group that meets at See's, where we get free samples).

I've done a lot of research on the problem and found that chocolate offers many health benefits. It's a valuable energy source (one chocolate chip gives you enough energy to walk 150 feet, the length of your average See's store.) Unfortunately, it takes me about 7 billion chips just to get out of bed in the morning.

Other health benefits include alleviating depression, lowering your blood pressure, and relieving PMS (it cures crabbiness). According to Wikipedia, chocolate contains iron, helps prevent tooth decay, has antioxidants, minimizes aging and probably cures morning breath, soccer flop and irritable bowel syndrome.

Of course, none of this is written on a chocolate bar label. Doesn't matter. Even if it came with a warning label reading "This will kill you instantly," I'd ignore it. Because everything tastes better with chocolate. Bacon? Potato Chips? Pizza? Carrots? All better if they're dipped in chocolate.

My chocolate counselor said I needed to channel this obsession or I might find myself eating chocolate more than seven times a day (a sign of a serious problem.) So I immediately signed up for the three-hour Chocolate Tour of San Francisco. First we had to listen to a lecture on where chocolate comes from, which took the mystery out of it for me. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate was discovered by the Aztecs, not Mrs. Mary See.


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They took the drug in drink form and believed it gave them super powers (which it sort of does, right?) Then "Hershey" Cortez got hold of it, took it to Spain, and added a bunch of fat and sugar so it would be more addicting. Finally, the Americans added even more fat and sugar, and voilà -- the Mars bar was born!

I won't go into all the "bean-to-bar" details. That's way too much information, sort of like knowing where babies come from. We learned words like conching (stirring) and lecithin (chemical), but not anything you'd use in daily conversation or see on a crossword puzzle hint.

Next we learned how to eat chocolate. Apparently, I'd been eating it all wrong. You're supposed to use all the senses. Listen -- it should snap when you break it. Look -- it should be brown (unless it's white chocolate which isn't really chocolate). Smell -- it should smell like, well, chocolate. Touch -- if it melts in your fingers, you've been holding it too long.

And finally taste -- see if you can identify a "lingering banana with pound cake flavor" or "a rich green forest that's been fertilized with sugar." Or just eat it.

Finally we got to the good part -- tasting gourmet chocolates by Recchiti Confections, Cocoa Bella, Chocolatier Blue, Neo Cocoa, and dozens more. We ate chocolates "infused" with ganache, cardamom, chili pepper, Nutella, quinoa, flax and Dom Pérignon (Oprah's favorite!)

By the time I was done, I felt like Lucy Ricardo working on that conveyor belt and stuffing in as many chocolates as her mouth would hold.

With all this research, I'm thinking of writing a murder mystery, perhaps DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, where ... uh-oh. I'm stuck. Good thing chocolate cures writers block. I'm going to need a case.

To take a chocolate tour, visit http://www.gourmetwalks.com/chocolate-tour.

Contact Penny Warner at www.pennywarner.com.