Why You Should Eat Dark or Bitter Chocolate? Know the Health Benefits!
Chocolate is made from the cocoa beans which are found in the pod like fruits of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao.
The cocoa tree is native to Mexico and tropical Americas. Chocolate has been known to humans for about 4000 years. It started out as a beverage which the Olmecs consumed by crushing the cocoa beans, adding water and some spices. It was a bitter drink then and was called xocolate.
The flavor of chocolate depends on the kind of cocoa beans used as they not only vary from country to country but from location to location within a given area of a country. This hub will focus on the benefits of chocolate on health, especially the benefits of dark chocolate.
Chocolate And Pets
Dogs and other animals cannot digest Theobromine. It damages the central nervous and circulatory systems leading to convulsions and death.
Hence, keep pets and other animals away from chocolates.
Production Of Cocoa And Chocolate
The entire process of cocoa farming is very labor dependent. All processes like harvesting to fermentation are done manually.
The cocoa seeds being very bitter need to be fermented to develop the chocolate flavor. The process of fermentation changes the sugar in the pulp to acids thus chemically altering the composition of the beans. This generates a high temperature whereby the enzymes are activated leading to formation of flavor precursors.
Fermentation takes between 2 to 8 days. The lesser the fermentation the healthier the chocolate produced.
After fermentation, the seeds are dried mostly in the sun and then sent to factories for further processing into cocoa and chocolate.
At the factory, the dried beans are first roasted either at low heat for a longer duration to develop a subtle flavor or at high heat for a short while to develop a stronger flavor. After this the outer shells are removed by passing the beans through a machine. This leaves a broken mass of beans minus the outer shells. These are called nibs.
The nibs are then ground and form a thick paste like liquid called chocolate liquor which actually is the cocoa solids floating in the cocoa butter. Though it is called a liquor it has no alcohol.
This chocolate liquor acts as a base to form cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolates by processing the basic ingredient- the chocolate liquor- differently.
- When the chocolate liquor paste is pressed hard by a hydraulic press it removes the fat, which is cocoa butter.
- The solid mass that is left behind after the extraction of cocoa butter is ground to form cocoa.
- Cocoa butter is used in the making of chocolates and is also used in cosmetics and medicines.
- Some batches of chocolate liquor are used directly to make chocolates. To improve the texture, cocoa butter, milk and flavor are added. The entire mixture is then put in a chocolate making machine which mixes and aerates the chocolate.
This process lasts from a few hours to several days. The chocolate is then tempered by repeated stirring, heating and cooling several times to produce the glossy, creamy, smooth look and taste.
Cacao Tree Varieties Used For Chocolate Production
Of the 20 known varieties of the cacao tree the beans of only 3 trees are used to make chocolate. These 3 varieties are grown worldwide and the flavor varies from place to place within the same varieties.
The 3 varieties are :
The beans of this variety form the major part, about 80-90%, of the total beans used to make chocolate. This African variety bean has low acidity but is used as it is a hardy variety and is much resistant to pests and diseases. Generally, cacao trees thrive with difficulty with 1/3rd of the world's yearly crop being destroyed by pests and disease. Using this hardy variety as a bulk base product ensures the regular availability of cacao beans to the chocolate manufacturers.
This variety is grown in Latin America especially Venezuela. It has a rich fruity flavor but is very susceptible to disease and low production is another factor that makes farmers shift to a hardier variety.
It forms about 5-10% of the total beans used for making chocolate.
It is a hybrid of the above 2 varieties and has a good mix of Criollo's flavor and Forastero's hardiness. It forms about 10-15% of the total beans used and is grown in the Antilles islands of the Caribbean especially Jamaica. It derives its name from Trinidad where it was first grown.
Types Of Chocolates
Basically chocolates contain the following ingredients in varying amounts. Based on their amounts and their presence or absence, they are classified into different types.
These ingredients are :
Chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, milk, milk powder or cream, sugar, lecithin, flavors like vanilla.
- Bitter or Unsweetened Chocolate
It is also called as baking chocolate or pure chocolate. It is pure chocolate liquor that has been cooled and hardened to form the chocolate. Almost always used in baking, other chocolates are made from it.
- Bittersweet Chocolate
It is also called dark or semisweet chocolate. It has a minimum of 35% chocolate liquor content. Cocoa butter and sugar are also present in different amounts.
- Sweet Chocolate
It has a minimum of 15% chocolate liquor and cocoa butter and sugar in varying amounts.
- Milk Chocolate
This type of chocolate has a minimum of 10% chocolate liquor content again with different quantities of cocoa and sugar. It also contains a minimum of 12% milk, milk powder or cream.
- White Chocolate
It is not a true chocolate as it contains the same ingredients as the milk chocolate minus the non fat cocoa solids. It has a minimum of 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk and sugar.
Contents Of A Good Chocolate
First and foremost it has to have a cacao and cocoa content of 65% and above.
- A cacao paste content of over 50%.
- Cocoa butter - more makes it creamier and less bitter.
- Sugar - lesser the better.
- Vanilla - this is added probably because most consumers of chocolate and candy identify with this flavor.
- Soy lecithin - it acts as an emulsifier making the chocolate creamier.
Benefits Of Dark Chocolate For Health
Dark chocolate contains much more, in fact, the highest cocoa content amongst all the varieties of chocolate. Consequently, it contains the highest amounts of antioxidant flavonoids, especially epicatechin, amongst all the different types of chocolates.
These antioxidants scavenge the free radicals and hence dark chocolate prevents hardening of arteries due to plaque formation and thus heart disease and also lowers blood pressure.
It also does not contain any added dairy products like milk solids and milk fat, which interfere with the absorption of antioxidants present in the chocolate.
Chocolates contain :
- 1/3 rd Oleic acid - a monosaturated fat that does not raise LDL cholesterol.
- 1/3 rd Stearic acid - a saturated fat that does not raise LDL cholesterol.
- 1/3 rd Palmitic acid - a saturated fat that raises the risk of heart disease.
As the 2/3 rd of the fat is a beneficial fat which does not raise the LDL cholesterol, the fats in chocolate are not harmful.
In view of the above facts, you can understand the benefits of chocolate on health, especially the benefits of dark chocolate.
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Other Beneficial Factors In Chocolate
All chocolates contain theobromine, minute quantities of caffeine, a number of amines of which phenyl ethylamine is predominant and serotinin.
- Theobromine is a stimulant and strengthens the heart.
- Caffeine is a stimulant that removes tiredness and improves concentration.
- Phenyl ethylamine is a brain stimulant.
- Serotinin lifts up the mood and prevents depression.
These factors too add to the benefits of chocolate on health, especially the benefits of dark or bitter chocolate.
Nutritional Levels In Various Types Of Chocolate
ORAC Values Of Foods (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity)
Per 100 Grams
Red Bell Pepper
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© 2012 Rajan Singh Jolly