Hello my dear readers,
We have seen from where chocolate comes from and the long process needed to create the chocolate that we all love, now it’s time to see how to choose a good one and what are its benefits.
Chocolate – today
Today, chocolate as we find it on the market is the result of successful production experiments on cocoa beans and mixing with other ingredients: dried fruit, candied fruit, other flavors, made possible thanks to the wide diffusion among the public of this product from the early nineteenth century.
Chocolate is passion, a 360° sensory experience from smell to taste, from sight to touch. Its consistency can be soft or hard, shiny or opaque; its taste, sweet or bitter.
The dark chocolate is the most valuable of the products and is recognized for its unmistakable sweet taste that leaves a note of bitterness in the mouth an experience to try and try it again.
Chocolate is a symbol of love.
Legend has it that Emperor Montezuma drank from the Xocolatl before visiting his harem.
Even today, chocolate is the favorite gift of lovers, not only on the classic Valentine’s day. According to some studies, chocolate would have a positive influence on human mood and increase sexual desire just as Giacomo Casanova claimed.
Indeed, chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical capable of creating addiction and is the basis of falling in love and attraction. While in non in love subjects it is almost absent, in subjects in love, large quantities have been found in the blood and urine.
In addition, other studies correlate the phenylethylamine contained in chocolate with the decrease in the phenomenon of depression, and still there are those who claim that chocolate also reduces cardiovascular risk factors through its high content of flavonoids, which is recognized as having a high antioxidant power.
Which chocolate to choose?
It is a good rule to choose a chocolate with the highest possible cocoa content.
On the market there are many types of chocolate, and each chocolate has a different processing and % of components.
To better understand what it is made of, let’s start with cocoa processing:
The cocoa bean, after processing, is transformed into 3 main components:
- Cocoa powder, (low in fat)
- Cocoa butter (fatter part)
- Cocoa paste (set of 2)
The % indicated in the package indicates the % ratio between these components.
For example in an extra dark chocolate bar we have:
- 70% cocoa paste
- 4% cocoa butter
- 20% sugar
In a dark chocolate bar we have:
- 46% cocoa paste
- 7% cocoa butter
- 47% sugar
Obviously the benefits I have just listed of chocolate are to be associated with the consumption of dark chocolate. The higher the % of cocoa contained in the chocolate, therefore the darker it is, the more the health benefits are important.
On the other hand, not everyone appreciates the bitter taste of dark chocolate.
For educational purposes, it is recommended to start with foods containing cocoa percentages equal to or greater than 65%, then gradually increasing this value to give the palate time to get used to it.
“Instructing” our palate in this sense, which is absolutely feasible with a little patience, will also decrease the attraction towards sweets and particularly sweet foods, with further beneficial effects on health.
You can also choose a cocoa enriched with almonds and hazelnuts, also sources of good fatty acids.
Avoid products containing caramel or other particular fillings, because they are sweeter, more caloric and poorer in flavonoids. The same is true for chocolate spreads.
How to recognize a good chocolate?
In tasting a good chocolate, the storage conditions are fundamental. The temperature should fluctuate between 16 and 18 ° C and the humidity should be low, 40-50%. In addition, chocolate easily absorbs bad smells and should be kept in an airtight box.
When evaluating a chocolate keep in mind the following indications:
Appearance: the chocolate must be smooth, shiny, dark mahogany color.
Perfume: it must not have too much sweetness.
Sound: breaking it, the chocolate must produce a clear snap. If it splinters it is too dry, if it resists breakage, it is too soft and waxy.
Touch: held between the fingers it tends to melt quickly in the hand, due to the effect of the cocoa butter contained.
Palate: in the mouth it must be absolutely smooth and soft, melting almost instantly.
Taste: the flavor and aromas must develop in a lasting and persistent way, with a note of bitterness and a hint of acidity, or sweet with an aftertaste of cocoa, pineapple, bananas, vanilla and cinnamon.
Storage: humidity and heat are enemies of chocolate as they create ugly blooms on the surface. The heat brings out the cocoa butter which then tends to crystallize unevenly. The flavor remains unchanged but the appearance is ruined. The humidity causes the sugar crystals to rise to the surface, dissolving in the air or recrystallizing to form an unpleasant gray patina. Both the appearance and structure of the chocolate deteriorate.
How to taste chocolate?
The ideal is to enjoy chocolate on an empty stomach.
Then you have to chew it several times to fully perceive its aromas. By adhering to the palate it is possible to perceive its fullness and range of flavors.
What if after tasting the chocolate you’re thirsty? Many argue that chocolate and wine don’t get along too well. But a sweet and still wine is probably a good companion for a chocolate-based dessert, even if chocolate professionals taste it drinking occasionally, only fresh water!
Cocoa was originally born in the forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins, but was already cultivated in Mexico and Central America even before the discovery of America itself. Thanks to the insects, the plant managed to extend beyond the borders of Mexico, to reach the current southern Guyana. In fact, the insects, feeding on the fruit, carried the seeds with them which, planted in the ground, gave life to a new cocoa tree. Later also the man noticed the goodness of the fruit and the plantations began to spread.
A study from February 2013, conducted at the Polytechnic University of Ancona, confirmed that women innately love chocolate much more than males. This study looked at 100 women about to give birth and the reaction of their fetuses when moms ate chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the greater the reaction of the fetus. All fetuses reacted to chocolate, but stimulation was more evident in female fetuses.
World Chocolate Day is celebrated on 7 July each year.
Benefits of chocolate
Chocolate by definition is the combination of cocoa and sugar. Obviously the remarkable benefits of chocolate are due to the cocoa contained inside. The darker the chocolate, the higher the % of cocoa contained inside and therefore the greater the benefits for your health.
Cocoa is a huge source of flavonoids, famous antioxidants also present in other natural substances such as tea, coffee or red wine.
The darker the chocolate, the higher the % of flavonoids contained inside. In a bar of 100 gr of extra-dark chocolate we find about 50-60 mg of antioxidants.
These substances are also responsible for the bitterness of dark chocolate.
On the other hand, those who want to fully benefit from the precious load of antioxidants in chocolate must get used to the bitter aspects of dark chocolate, giving up the creamy taste of white chocolate and the velvety taste of milk bars. These two variants, for the use of other ingredients, contain a much lower percentage of flavonoids.
The quantity of flavonoids contained in dark chocolate approaches that of berries (antioxidant foods par excellence), while in terms of quality it reflects, with its catechins, the antioxidant power of green tea.
Flavonoids? And why are the chocolate flavonoids so important for our health you will ask?
Flavonoids have significant beneficial effects on our health:
- They reduce cholesterol levels
- Have a protective effect on the whole cardiovascular system (heart in particular)
- They have an anti-aging effect, improving the health of the skin and our body.
Cocoa intake is linked to a greater production of NITRIC OXIDE, a substance with a vasodilating action. This translates into a decrease in blood pressure and a lower risk of incurring diseases that affect our cardiovascular system.
The happiness and chocolate association is not wrong, in fact taking dark chocolate increases the production of serotonin.
A low serotonin level is associated with:
- Mood alteration
- Sleep and concentration problems.
This makes us understand how an increase in the concentration of serotonin, can bring a significant benefit on mood and depression.
In addition, the intake of chocolate is also linked to an increase in the production of endorphins, very important molecules for regulating mood and pleasure.
Chocolate contains various active ingredients with an energizing action such as caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, also contained in coffee and tea.
These substances have a stimulating action at the level of our nervous system by increasing concentration and reducing the sense of tiredness and fatigue.
A recent study has shown that regular dark chocolate consumption is associated with increased brain blood flow.
A study conducted by a team of Columbia University researchers and published in Nature Neuroscience has identified cocoa as a natural remedy that could help us improve memory when it tends to fade and block this phenomenon by acting as a natural protective remedy in an area, specific to our brain.
In addition, the high content of flavonoids and phosphorus improves cognitive ability.
The research on chocolate and brain has been carried out on a sample of 968 chocolate consumers aged between 23 and 98 years monitored for 30 years. The brain functions of the people analyzed were tested thanks to a series of tests that aimed to evaluate their visual memory, work and verbal skills. Thus it has been possible to see a decidedly positive effect of the consumption of chocolate in particular in those people who consumed it weekly at least once.
Although this food is rich in substances important for our health, it is still a good rule not to get caught up in excessive enthusiasm for it.
Flavonoids, in fact, do not “cancel” the calories of fats, which are the masters in chocolate.
A 100-gram bar of chocolate provides just under 500 kcal, covering in a single bite from 1/4 to 1/6 of the daily caloric needs (depending on age, sex, physical size and degree of sport activity).
Calories are therefore the real problem of chocolate; these, in fact, are directly related to the trend of weight and, the more they introduce, the lower the life expectancy due to obesity and related metabolic pathologies.
Milk and white chocolate, in addition to being poorer in flavonoids, also have a 10-15% higher energy power and contain small quantities (15-35 mg) of cholesterol, which is instead absent in the fondant.
How much chocolate to eat?
People around the world enjoy cocoa in plenty different forms, consuming more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans yearly.
So chocolate, yes, but in moderation, especially because its cultivation has an environmental impact, as relative poverty of many cocoa farmers, push them to deforestation, to be able to grow more cocoa trees.
Also, cocoa production is likely to be affected in various ways by the expected effects of global warming. The current centre of global cocoa production is in West Africa but if temperatures continue to rise, West Africa could simply become unfit to grow the beans.
Remember always that the excesses are not justified in anything!
A right dose would be around 6-7 g per day of extra dark chocolate.
So one piece of chocolate a day keeps the doctor away 😉
Thank you all for reading.
Join me next time as is time to discover a super easy but very decadent chocolate recipe
And if you would like to discover more about our food, you may enjoy my previous posts
Wish you a wonderful day!