Posted 2 years ago
Chocolate, it does not have to be just for Valentine’s Day
Chocolate, it does not have to be just for Valentine’s Day
In the U.S. 58 million pounds of chocolate are purchased in the 7 days leading up to February 14th. But chocolate does not just have to be for Valentine’s Day…it should be the right chocolate though. Not all chocolates are equal when it comes to nutrition and health.
A little background on Chocolate:
Chocolate is a food product made from roasted and ground cacao pods, which is available as a liquid, solid or paste, on its own or as a flavoring in other foods. Cacao has been consumed in some form since at least the Olmec civilization (19th-11th century BCE), and the majority of Mesoamerican people – including the Maya and Aztecs – made chocolate beverages.
The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavor. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The shell is removed to produce cocoa nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, the unadulterated chocolate in rough form. Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor. The liquor may also be cooled and processed into its two components: cocoa powder (or cocoa solids) and cocoa butter; this is where the types of chocolate differ.
Types of Chocolate
There are three main types of chocolate — white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate. Dark Chocolate however can vary greatly with regards to “Darkness” aka Percent Cocoa, which is really to say its percentage of chocolate liquor. We all have our favorites, but how much do we actually know about the different kinds of chocolates? And Can chocolate really be good for us?
- Chocolate Liquor
Chocolate liquor, sometimes referred to as unsweetened chocolate, is the base of all types of chocolate. Chocolate liquor is 100% cocoa, with no added ingredients and can be formed into bars or chips. Under high pressure, it separates into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Despite the name, chocolate liquor does not actually contain alcohol.
- White Chocolate
White chocolate is easy to identify because of its cream or ivory color. It is made by combining sugar, cocoa butter, milk, vanilla, and lecithin (an emulsifier that helps the ingredients blend). White chocolates flavor can be described as sweet. Good quality white chocolate will have a rich, soft, and creamy texture — that comes from its cocoa butter base and high sugar and milk content.
White chocolate is unique because it does not actually contain any cocoa solids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets standards of classification for each kind of chocolate. According to their definition, to be considered white chocolate it must contain at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk, and no more than 55% sugar. 55% sugar! No wonder it is sweet! Most of the white chocolate products we consume are actually white chocolate-like substitutes and are not white chocolate because they often do not meet the 20% cocoa butter requirement. Technically white chocolate is chocolate because it does contain ingredients from the cacao bean. White chocolate, when stored properly, has a shelf life of about four months.
- Milk Chocolate
With its lighter brown color, creamy texture, and sweet flavor, milk chocolate is widely regarded as the most popular type of chocolate. It is made by combining chocolate liquor (cocoa solids and cocoa butter) with sugar, and milk. Sometimes an emulsifier, such as soy lecithin, is added to enhance its smoothness. According to the FDA definition, milk chocolate must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor and 12% milk. Milk chocolate is considered a good middle of the road chocolate. It is characteristically sweeter, with a softer texture than dark chocolate, but not quite as sweet and soft as white chocolate. When properly stored, milk chocolate has a self-life of about 16 months. Milk chocolate is a great choice for when you want a chocolate treat or gift everyone will enjoy.
- Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, with its notable deep brown color, is the second most popular type of chocolate. It is also called semisweet chocolate and is noticeably less sweet than milk chocolate. In recent years, dark chocolate has surged in popularity thanks to a number of articles published about the health benefits.
Dark chocolate is typically made from two ingredients — chocolate liquor and sugar. Sometimes small amounts of vanilla and soy lecithin (an emulsifier) are added. According to the FDA definition, dark chocolate must contain at least 15% chocolate liquor but usually contains closer to about 50%. The lack of dairy and less sugar gives dark chocolate firmer texture than milk chocolate or white chocolate. This is why a well-tempered piece of dark chocolate will have a nice snap when broken in half.
- Bittersweet chocolate is a form of Dark Chocolate and has gained a lot of traction recently as people started to learn more about cacao and cocoa percentages. This kind of chocolate rose to popularity when people began claiming that you should eat dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more, in order to get the most health benefits.
Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate share the same FDA definition, and must contain more than 35% chocolate liquor, although they generally contain at least 50% cocoa liquor. Bittersweet chocolate is typically 66% cocoa content or higher (the added sugar usually less than one-third of the total content).
As its name indicates, bittersweet chocolate is often a little more bitter than semisweet dark chocolate. Extra-dark chocolate, when properly stored, has a shelf life of about 20 months.
- Cocoa Powder Cocoa powder is created when chocolate liquor is separated under high pressure, and the resulting cocoa solids are crushed into a powder. Unsweetened cocoa powder is essentially 100% cocoa.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants and other beneficial compounds like flavonols. Among the most beneficial is the flavonol Eepicatechin. Flavonols are compounds found in plants that fight inflammation and protect against cell damage caused by free radicals.
- Good for your Heart:The antioxidants in dark chocolate have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of clotting and increase blood circulation to the heart, thus lowering the risks of stroke, coronary heart disease and death from heart disease.
- Good for your Immune System: Flavonols prevent the immune system from going into overdrive and reduce oxidative stress, an imbalance caused by cells fighting against free radicals and a common cause of many diseases.
- Good for Diabetes/Blood Glucose Control:Epicatechin protects cells, makes them stronger and supports the processes that help the body to use insulin better, which might prevent or combat diabetes.
- Good for your Brain:Flavonols in dark chocolate have a positive impact on brain function, including better reaction time, visual-spatial awareness and stronger memory. Though research is ongoing, one reason for this may be that flavonols increase blood flow to the brain.
- Good for Circulation/Boosts athletic performance:The epicatechin in dark chocolate increases the production of nitric oxide in the blood, which supports circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen an athlete uses while engaged in moderately intense exercise. This allows the athlete to maintain workout intensity for longer.
- Reduces stress: People who ate dark chocolate reported that they felt less stressed, and researchers confirmed that after eating dark chocolate, there were reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This may be related to dark chocolate’s effects on heart health, since stress is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (greater than 70%) it can be quite nutritious. Dark Chocolate with 70-85% Cocoa contains significant amounts of Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorus, Zinc and Selenium (another antioxidant).
Keep In Mind:
- The higher the cocoa content, the more beneficial compunds the chocolate contains and the less sugar. Most of the benefits seen in research are associated with chocolate that has at least a 70% cacao content.
- There is no official recommendation for dark chocolate intake to achieve these health benefits. The general recommendation is to choose minimally processed dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao and have an ounce a few times a week.
- Dark Chocolate does contain caffeine- although the amount of caffeine is very small compared with coffee.
- For some people, chocolate can trigger acid reflux or migraines.
Dark chocolate has many health benefits and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. If it is too bitter try, Dark Chocolate covered nuts or dried fruit at first and ease into the world or Dark Chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Bark
- 4 oz (113g) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped (typically, 1 full bar)
- 1 ½ tsp organic stevia or adjusted to taste
- ½ tsp vanilla crème stevia
- 2 tbsp (20g) dried apricots, diced very finely
- 2 tbsp (20g) dried mango, diced very finely
- 2 tbsp (14g) almonds, diced very finely
- ¼ tsp chia seeds
- ¼ tsp coarse sea salt
- Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
- Add the chocolate, stevia, and vanilla crème stevia to a microwave-safe bowl, and stir to combine. Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds. Stir with a fork for at least 2 minutes. Microwave on HIGH for 20 seconds. Stir with a fork for at least 2 minutes. If there are still small bits of un-melted chocolate, continue to microwave on HIGH for 5 seconds at a time, stirring for at least 1 minute after each microwave interval, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
- Immediately transfer the chocolate to the prepared baking sheet, and spread it into a thin layer about 1/16” thick with a spatula. Quickly sprinkle the remaining ingredients on top, and gently press them down into the melted chocolate with your hands. Let the chocolate cool and harden before breaking into small pieces.
Notes: As written, this chocolate bark tastes very dark, similar to 85% dark chocolate. For a sweeter taste, you can increase the stevia by up to 3 teaspoons. Do not increase the vanilla crème stevia because it adds a very prominent vanilla flavor to the chocolate.
If you prefer, other granulated sweeteners may be substituted for both stevia products. You’ll want the equivalent of ½ cup of granulated sugar.
For a quick shortcut, substitute your favorite dark chocolate bar for the unsweetened chocolate and stevia products!
Dice all of the toppings very finely, no larger than the size of miniature chocolate chips, to make the bark easier to break into pieces and ensure each of those pieces has all of the toppings on it.
Any dried fruit can be substituted for the apricots and mango, and any nuts may be substituted for the almonds. You may omit or substitute the chia seeds as well.