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Monday, February 3, 2014

Chocolate: Unraveling the Ancient Obsession

Chocolate has been around for thousands of years.  Some of the earliest evidence of chocolate dates back to 1900 BC.  And interestingly enough, it was used exclusively as a bitter drink.  Not until the mid 1800s was chocolate made into the sweet bar form we know and love today.  So what is the real scoop on chocolate - are there really any health benefits or is it all just hype?

There are three main categories of chocolate: milk, semi-sweet/dark, unsweetened.
  •   Milk chocolate has the least amount of cocoa solids or cacao –containing 20% – 34%. 
  • The semisweet/dark category ranges from 35% in the lightest semisweet – to 99% found in the darkest bittersweet chocolate.
  • Unsweetened chocolate contains 100% and contains pure chocolate liquor mixed with some form of fat.  (Cocoa powder also falls into this category though it is not mixed with another fat to become solid, but left as a powder)
This cacao or cocoa solids are the component of chocolate that provide the health benefits you’ve probably heard about.  It contains flavonoids that provide antioxidant benefits, sulfur, magnesium, essential fatty acids and even fiber.  These compounds may help with cholesterol levels or help reduce the damaging effects of free radicals in the body.  Darker types of chocolate contain more of those compounds and less sugar than the lighter milk chocolate.  The higher the percentage of cacao, the more fiber the chocolate contains.  However, regardless of the type of chocolate you prefer, it is best to remember that chocolate fills a cameo role in balanced, varied diet.  

Tip: the higher the percentage of cacao, the higher the price tag seems to be.  So try making your own bittersweet chocolate by combining equal parts by weight of semisweet chocolate chips and unsweetened baking chocolate.
Combine both kinds of chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave on high for 20-30 seconds, stir, then repeat until chocolate has completely melted. Frequent stirring is crucial to prevent burning.
You now have a lovely, liquid, bittersweet chocolate that is between 70-75% cacao.  Try using it to dip fruit, or stir in some nuts, spread it out onto waxed paper and let cool, then break into bark pieces. 


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