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Fueling Up With Chocolate

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— February 15, 2017

Fueling Up With Chocolate

By Corinne Garcia
  • When dark chocolate started popping up on superfood lists, chocoholics around the world celebrated. Candy as a superfood? How could something so delicious also be so good for you? And is all chocolate created equal? Here’s a look at all things chocolate.
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ENERGY BOOSTER

Chocolate is worth chucking in your pocket before you hit the slopes or trails. After all, chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, has powered soldiers: Known as the “D ration bar,” four-ounce chocolate bars were carried by World War II troops for energy. Due to high levels of cocoa, they were extremely bitter and so dense that soldiers had to cut shavings off to consume them. “Dark chocolate is packed full of vitamins, minerals, and theobromine, which is a relative of caffeine so it’s a stimulant,” explains UK-based chocolate expert Jennifer Earle. “But it has a slower release and is more stable than caffeine, so it’s an excellent source of energy. Plus the sugar and fat combination is a good mix of slow- and quick-release energy compared to other sweets or carbs.”

Degrees of Darkness

When it comes to dark chocolate, most labels proclaim a percentage of cocoa. “Good quality dark chocolate has a minimum of 60% cocoa,” says Earle. “If chocolate is 60% cocoa content then it will be 40% sugar, and this goes right up to 100%, which has no sugar at all.” The darker the better, as far as health is concerned, but 100% cocoa would be too bitter for most. That’s why confectioners tinker with the process, looking to keep cocoa content high without compromising sweetness and flavor. “A lot of bitterness can be removed in the roasting, and it should end up being smooth, non-grainy and melt in the mouth nicely,” says Wlady Grochowski, co-owner of the Montana-based La Châtelaine Chocolat Company. “Personally, I’d opt for the highest cocoa percentage that you can cope with,” Earle says. “There are even some great 100% chocolates out there now that really isn’t that bitter.”

IS WHITE CHOCOLATE REALLY CHOCOLATE?

White chocolate is the distant step-cousin to dark chocolate, which is made from cocoa solids that give it color. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, a fat extracted from the bean. “It’s like eating margarine,” says chocolate consultant Curtis Vreeland. Nevertheless, it’s still considered chocolate. However, some manufacturers aren’t making the real thing. “If the cocoa butter remains, it’s still considered chocolate,” Grochowski says. “Some manufacturers remove the cocoa butter and sell it—because it is a valuable commodity—and replace it with oil.” Without the cocoa solids, white chocolate doesn’t contain the vitamins, minerals and antioxidant benefits of dark and milk chocolate.

Unusual Pairings

Chocolate with caramel or nuts…yawn. The latest trend is chocolate combined with savory concoctions. “I see more chocolate using spices and herbs as interest in botanicals has been growing generally,” Vreeland says. He has seen some with olive oil, smoky flavors and even black rice and quinoa. One of Grochowski’s most popular chocolates has chili powder, cardamom, clove, and ginger. Pairings that Earle has seen include miso, natto (a fermented soy food) and balsamic vinegar. “Plus tropical and unusual fruits like calamansi lime and yuzu (another citrus fruit) paired with herbs like rosemary or spices like cardamom,” she adds. Single-origin chocolate, made with beans from one region, is another trend. “Different flavors come out from the earth like wine,” Grochowski says. “You can have floral scents, tobacco, citrus, fruity.” Cocoa from Madagascar takes on a reddish color and fruity scent, while Cuban cocoa is more peppery, he explains.

HEALTHY AS HECK

When it comes to the health benefits of dark chocolate, there is no shortage of studies. It has been found to boost brain power, fight inflammation, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, protect skin from UV rays and even relieve persistent coughs. On top of that, “The caffeine through moderate consumption of cocoa and chocolate can produce an elevation of mood and improved concentration,” says Vreeland. When it comes to health, the darker—meaning the higher the cocoa content—the better. “Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, which recent medical studies have found to prevent blood clotting and have an antioxidant effect,” says Vreeland. “Additionally, polyphenols may protect the body against substances that damage the immune system and cause rheumatism and arthritis. They can neutralize free radicals that cause cancer.” But it doesn’t stop there, explains Grochowski. “Dark chocolate is easily digested and contains a multitude of vitamins, such as A1, B1, B2, C and E, and minerals, such as calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, chromium and phosphorus.” Good news for chocolate lovers, indeed, but it doesn’t mean it’s OK to gorge yourself; the recommended “dose” is around 1.5 to 3 ounces a day. “Choosing high-quality dark chocolate is key,” Grochowski adds.

DID YOU KNOW…
» Legend has it that Montezuma, the renowned Aztec emperor, consumed 50 cups of cacao a day from a golden chalice. No wonder he was so powerful.
» Chocolate is the most craved food among females.
» According to the National Confectioners Association, It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate, and each tree produces approximately 2,500 beans.
» Vreeland reports that several post-war marriages between candy workers and soldiers resulted from the messages workers placed in some of the six million tins of chocolate Whitman’s company shipped to American troops during World War II.

DARK VS. MILK

Some prefer the sweeter, smooth flavor of milk chocolate, which is made with cocoa solids and milk in either condensed, powder or liquid form. But does milk chocolate still have the benefits? “Milk chocolate is usually under 45% cocoa content and milk is added, so there is less benefit from the cocoa itself,” says Grochowski. In reality, much of the mass-produced milk chocolate hovers around 10% cocoa, so not only is the cocoa diluted from the addition of milk but there’s a lot less of it than in dark chocolate. Milk chocolate also typically contains more sugar. “Dark chocolate is inherently healthier because it lacks all the sugar that milk chocolate is usually loaded with,” Vreeland says. “Using a coffee analogy, if you want to taste the flavor of your expensive Purple Mountain or Guatemala brew, you shouldn’t load up your cup with milk and sugar.”

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