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Chocolate - everything you never knew you didn't know

Chocolate is loved the world around. But there's so much more to know. What does that percentage on the package mean? Is it good for you? What's cacao? Should I be eating more of it? Will it make me fat? Read on for all the info...

Chocolate comes in many different forms but most commonly white, milk and dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate is the truest form of chocolate as described by the chocoholics and is made from cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar. How dark it is expressed as a percentage. When you see 71%, that means 71% is a blend of cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The other 29% is usually sugar, but can include nuts, or flavours like salt or chai spices. Higher percentage = higher cocoa solids, and usually more bitter, but also healthier and more expensive.

Milk chocolate is also cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar, but milk powder is added. It is often described as a percentage as well, which tells us how much cocoa solids are in it.

White chocolate is often described as NOT REAL chocolate, because it contains cocoa butter, but no cocoa powder, so it is cocoa solids, milk powder and sugar. Very tasty, but not the healthiest.

Compound chocolate is cheap chocolate, as it uses cocoa powder, but not cocoa butter, and is the most common confectionary chocolate one finds in the supermarket.

How is chocolate made?

Chocolate comes from the cacao bean. The bean is roasted, and the husk is removed. The remaining nib, is then ground for hours until the fats in the bean melt in a special grinder called a conch. That grinding process, creates the chocolate. That is 100% chocolate, but wouldn't be very nice to eat, so extra cocoa butter is added.

Once that delicious liquid is ready, then it blended with sugar, or milk powder to get the flavours right. After that, chocolate is tempered, which means it is heated and cooled to get the crystals ready to set. Once that is done, the tempered chocolate is put in molds, and left to cool, and we have our bars ready to eat.

What's the difference between cacao and cocoa?

The latin name for the tree that provides us with cocoa is Theobroma cacao. Cacao is often used as the name for raw beans, or unprocessed powder from the beans. Cocoa powder is often that same thing, but sometimes the powder is alkalised, making it less bitter, in a process called Dutching. This removes some of the healthy stuff from the cocoa powder, and so is less of a health food. So if you're looking for maximum health benefits, use cacao, or ask if the cocoa is dutched.

Is chocolate healthy and good for you?

Cocoa comes from the Theobroma Cacao tree, and theobroma translates to food of the gods. So, it should be good for you. Chocolate has many health benefits, provided it is dark chocolate. Benefits such as:

Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants.

Antioxidants protect your bodies cells from oxidative stress, or "damage". Just like metal can rust, our cells can get damaged. Antioxidants prevent this, and have been linked to better health, better skin and less disease.

Chocolate has more antioxidants than green tea, acai berries, blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate and red wine. Antioxidants is a broad name for a group of organic substances which include polyphenols, flavenols and catechins.

Dark chocolate is good for your heart, lowers blood pressure and improves cholesterol.

The flavenols in dark chocolate can increase nitric oxide which relaxes the blood vessels, allowing more blood flow and less blood pressure. The blood also carries oxygen around the body, and higher oxygen improves thinking, exercising and energy.

Studies showed that people who ate more dark chocolate had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. This may be because chocolate helps lower LDL (low density lipids / bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (high density lipids / good) cholesterol. It may also be because chocolate makes you happy, and how many times to people have a heart attack if they're happy?

Dark chocolate is good for your brain.

Dark chocolate helps your brain, improving memory and cognition. There is a correlation between amount of chocolate eaten, and number of Nobel prize winners in countries. So chocolate can make you smarter, improve your memory, and help your understanding of subjects.

Dark chocolate can make you happy

Chocolate can boost your endorphins. Endorphins give you that feel good feeling after good exercise, sometimes referred to as runner's high.

Dark chocolate is good for your gut health

Cocoa is considered a prebiotic, something that stimulates the health of your good bacteria colonies. Good gut bacteria is getting more and more research showing that it is linked to many more aspects of our health than just digestion. Good gut health is essential to general good health. However, cocoa also decreases bad bacteria in your gut. It's a win-win.

Cocoa is a superfood

Cocoa or cacao is considered a superfood, which is a food that has lots of nutrients. Cocoa contains minerals such as:

  • magnesium
  • iron
  • copper
  • zinc
  • phosphorous
  • manganese
  • selenium
  • potassium

So cocoa is so much more than just a throw away snack, it has some serious history and serious benefits. Some people go so far as to only eat chocolate from a particular pocket of land. We don't want to go that far, but hopefully you can know appreciate that dark deliciousness a little more.

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