A guide to chocolate.
Chocolate is made from the fruit of the cacao tree, which yield cocoa pods, contained in which are the cocoa beans. The pods are cut open and the beans removed before being warmed to dry them out. Once dry, the outer shell is discarded leaving the centre, known as the ‘nib’, which are then roasted and ground down into cocoa mass or solids.
The cocoa is dark in colour and the level of cocoa solids in chocolate is what will influence its colour and taste, as the darker the chocolate the less sugar it is likely to have.
As cocoa is derived from a tree, like all other fruits, it can have a beneficial effect on the body. Cocoa contains various types of antioxidants, including polyphenols which are also found in, and research into the potential benefits of antioxidants has been extensive. It is believed that antioxidants can reduce the risk of major diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease whilst having a beneficial effect on LDL cholesterol as well as helping reduce the clumping and stickiness of the blood.
Cocoa can also help enhance mood as it contains elements that can increase levels of neurotransmitters, much in the same way that sex does.Sadly the fat and sugar that is added to commercial chocolate detracts from many potential nutritional benefits, so before you go and eat another Easter egg in the belief that its good for you, think a little about what type of chocolate you are choosing. You could easily manage to enjoy chocolate by choosing a variety that is high in its cocoa content, remembering that the value is in the bean, so it follows that the more cocoa it contains, then it will obviously have less fat and sugar.
White chocolate comes in two basic forms. Either it is very low in cocoa solids, or in some cases actually contains none at all, merely cocoa butter. There was a move by some member states of the EU to have British chocolate, especially our white and milk chocolate reclassified as ‘vegelate’ as it was claimed that they contained more vegetable fat than cocoa. In many white chocolates, you will find that sugar is listed as the first ingredient, which means that there’s less chance of cocoa being plentiful.
Milk chocolate is the most popular type in this country and we consume more milk chocolate than any other nation in Europe. Milk chocolate varies but the most popular brands tend to contain as little as 20% cocoa solids. Bearing in mind that the nutritional benefit is in the solids or mass, this means that the remaining 80% is made up of sugar, fat, butters and milks.
The darker the chocolate, the more cocoa it contains, and thus dark chocolate is the one to go for. These range from 50% right up to 98%, and whilst the latter is really very bitter and overpowering, there are some brands that contain an average of 70%. These have a great balance between flavour and benefits, and just a couple of squares are generally more satisfying than a whole bar of the cheaper and milkier varieties.
Organic chocolate is made from organic cocoa, and whilst it could be argued that organic food is always healthier, the benefits that the bean contain are not necessarily increased by being organic. If you prefer to eat organic chocolate, then choose the darker varieties for their higher cocoa mass content.
These are the most popular way of eating chocolate, and as we all know, the addition of caramel, nuts or biscuit can make it far more interesting. There is no reason to believe that this type of chocolate bar contains any extra benefits over and above a solid bar of chocolate, so once again the dark bars tend to have a little more in the way of beneficial nutrients. If you choose to eat bars that contain bars that contain other sweetened items, then you will be increasing your sugar intake yet more, so favour those that contain nuts, which provide some protein, and perhaps some dried fruit for fructose.