The Joys of Chocolate
Yet who would have thought that such a brief description could elicit such passion?
Chocolate has been prepared as a drink for nearly all of its history. In Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokaya archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BCE. The residues and the kind of vessel in which they were found indicate the initial use of cacao was not simply as a beverage, but the white pulp around the cacao beans was likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink. The Aztecs were not able to grow cacao themselves, as their home in the Mexican highlands was unsuitable for it, so chocolate was a luxury imported into the empire. After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. There, it quickly became a court favorite. It was still served as a beverage, but the Spanish added sugar, as well as honey, to counteract the natural bitterness.
What kind do you like?
There are several types of chocolate:
- Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, combining chocolate with sugar.
- Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk.
- White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids. Although it’s similar in texture to milk and dark chocolate, white chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. Because of this, many countries do not consider white chocolate to be chocolate at all!
- Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to the cacao mixture. The USDA calls this "sweet chocolate" and requires a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. Dark chocolate has been promoted for unproven health benefits, as it seems to possess substantial amounts of antioxidants that reduce the formation of free radicals.
- Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor, also known as bitter or baking chocolate.
- Raw chocolate, often referred to as raw cacao, is always dark and a minimum of 75% cacao. Because the act of processing results in the loss of certain vitamins and minerals (such as magnesium), some consider raw cacao to be a more nutritious form of chocolate.
What does it do for you?
Chocolate contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, which are linked to serotonin levels in the brain, so eating or drinking it makes you happier. (Watch out, though: it’s the theobromine that’s toxic to some animals, including dogs and cats).
Dark chocolate, with its high cocoa content, is a rich source of epicatechin and gallic acid, thought to possess cardioprotective properties—in other words, that help your heart stay healthy. Dark chocolate has also been said to reduce the possibility of a heart attack when consumed regularly in small amounts.
Some studies indicate that consuming chocolate may boost cognitive abilities. Want to get smarter? Eat more chocolate!
Of course, all things in moderation: too much sweetened chocolate without corresponding exercise will put all that sugar right onto your body in the form of fat. Want a candy bar? Then make sure you do that hour of bicycling you’ve been promising yourself!
At Bliss Shurfine Food Mart, we have all sorts of ways to help you determine which chocolate treats are best for you and your family. Why not stop in and ask us how?