We've been hearing for years that chocolate is actually good for our health, yet this kind of statement is very misleading. There is a specific type of chocolate that is beneficial. And for those of us with a super-sweet tooth, it's not the especially appealing kind…
Dark Chocolate. That's right. And it has to be at least 70% cocoa to be any good to you inside and especially out.
We really don't have to get into it's origins. It's pretty commonly known that chocolate comes from the cacao beans in the tropical regions of the world, like Africa, Madagascar, and South America. Just like coffee, it's much more familiar to us consumers once it's been roasted and processed much further from its natural state. But we need to understand that the less processed our chocolate, the more beneficial it is.
Right out of the cacao bean, the pulp and seeds are referred to as cacao. It doesn't become cocoa until it's been roasted and ground up good. So when you are in the store and you see “70% cocoa” or “88% cocoa”, you usually know you're getting the real unadulterated stuff. Dark chocolate contains more cacao and therefore retains it's naturally-occurring compounds that the media sing praises about. Trouble is, that good-for-you components, also known as flavonoids or flavonols, are naturally bitter. When you're eating semi-sweetened or milk chocolate, the manufacturers have replaced those compounds with milk and sugar so they would taste better. Frankly, your health isn't the first thing on their minds…your taste buds are.
This is why the term “chocolate” as a superfood is a misrepresentation. My idea of chocolate isn't the same as someone else's. Hell, my idea of chocolate isn't even what is was 5 years ago! The superficial Chocolate is the dark variety. And not just any dark chocolate. In fact, even if you find the chocolate bars that say “70% cocoa” on the label, you need to check the ingredients. The first ingredient listed is usually the main ingredient. If it says anything besides the lines of “bittersweet chocolate” (I've seen “milk” in some), it's not going to be the real thing. Here's what you should see:
By the way, in case you are concerned about the “chocolate liquor”, don't worry! It's not referring to anything alcoholic. After the cacao nibs are roasted and hulled out of their shells, then ground into a gritty paste, this is what it's called. The word “liquor” simply refers to its liquid state. I can't tell you how many times I had to clear this up for people who avoid alcohol for religious and health purposes.
Personally, when I am choosing dark chocolate, I have an additional criteria. I happen to favor products in general that are good for the environment. Chocolate is certainly no exception, especially when it has the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” seal of approval on the label. This means that the cacao used to make the chocolate was bought from small and often family-owned proprietors that work sustainably. This, in turn, protects the habitats and communities directly affected by these proprietors. And because the environment and its inhabitants are their first priority, I'm moved to buy my chocolate from them exclusively. I like people who care about something larger than themselves.
I used to be all about milk chocolate. I would grimace at the very mention of bittersweet or dark chocolate. For a long time I believed it was an age-related taste, but even though part of it may be true, I found as I was getting older that my taste for such “mature” food hadn't changed. What has changed it more recently, though, is the research I did to find out more about the “chocolate” they say is good for you. The health and especially beauty benefits were worth acclimating my tastebuds to this once-offensive substance. But that's for the next post.