Chocolate lovers rejoice. Good news. Don’t worry about chocolate fitting into a healthy diet. Research proves it does. Starting with Mayan culture, desire for chocolate and its belief in healthful properties have been with us for centuries. Milton Hershey introduced the five-cent chocolate bar in the early 1900s and sold it as a daily dietary requirement, “more sustaining than meat.”
Love and Chocolate
Beyond health, chocolate symbolizes affection, attraction and deep love. Proof: I married a man who loves chocolate. I found this out prior to marriage on a rather stressful drive to get to the Denver airport on time. The rental car needed gas. As my husband-to-be dashed into the gas station to pay, I shouted, “please don’t come back without chocolate.” Right. Out he came with a big bag of Peanut M&Ms and a big grin on his face. He knew he found the right girl.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
So yes, if you are a “chocophile”, you have reasons to feel happy about it. A little chocolate in moderation, especially dark chocolate, can be beneficial. The cacoa bean is rich in flavonals that are part of a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants which help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals formed by normal body processes and exposure to the environment. Research shows flavonals may help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, help cognitive memory and reduce the tendency of blood platelets to clot.
Before you grab a candy bar or piece of chocolate cake, realize not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavonoids. Processing techniques can reduce the amount of flavonals. The best choices are usually dark chocolate or cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing, a process to neutralize its natural acidity. Manufacturers are looking for ways to keep flavonals in the chocolate processing. Cacoa nibs, small pieces of raw chocolate, contain the most flavonals. Since it is pure cacaco, it is bitter tasting. (For more tips on the healthy reasons for craving chocolate, CLICK HERE.)
When buying chocolate for baking or cooking, a few facts are helpful. Chocolate “liquor” or cacao is the solid part of cacoa bean after grinding. Cacao butter (fat) also is released with processing. To produce chocolate, the “liquor” and cacao butter are recombined along with sugar. The percentage number on a chocolate bar wrapper is the sum of its cacao solids and cacao butter (fat). A “77” percent chocolate bar is 77 percent cacao plus cacao butter. The remainder is sugar. The lower the percentage, the sweeter the chocolate. The sweeter the chocolate, the less chocolate flavor.
Working with chocolate requires attention. Chocolate begins to melt around 93 degrees F., a lower temperature than you might think. If you are melting chocolate, it is best to place it in a heat resistant bowl set over barely simmering water. Chop it or break it into pieces for quicker melting. Stir with a non-wooden spoon until it melts. (Your wooden spoon may have flavors from cooking.) Don’t let water or steam touch the chocolate or it will seize and harden. Placing a pan of chocolate directly on heat increases the chance it will burn. Microwaving is an alternative method. Depending on the amount of chocolate, microwave for 15 seconds, stir and continue with 15 more seconds and increments of stirring until the chocolate is melted.
Friends and Chocolate
If you are a “chocophile” and have like-minded friends, consider having a chocolate tasting. Try various brands and percentages of cacao solids and cacao butter. Look for color, aroma, appearance, flavor and melt-in-your-mouth feel.
Easy Chocolate Sauce: In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup bittersweet or special dark chocolate chips with 1/2 cup whipping cream over low heat. Stir until the chocolate melts and blends thoroughly into the cream. Drizzle over ice cream, dip whole strawberries into warm sauce or pour over cake or pancakes. Makes 1 cup.
Written by: Mimi Cunningham, MA, RDN, CDCES
Mimi is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and diabetes care specialist helping people learn to manage their diabetes and achieve good health. She believes food definitely is good culinary medicine.
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