In this 10-part series about helping your clients Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right,* we have focused on berries, then vanilla. Now, as Chocolate Month draws to a close, we turn our attention to thoughts of… well, chocolate. Scroll below for a Chocolate Recipe Handout.
Today's Featured Flavor: Chocolate
Chocolate has been around for ages. Some of the earliest use of chocolate can be traced back to Mesoamerica, around 600 BC. It spread to Europe in the 16th century, and, when Hernán Cortés returned to Spain from the Americas, cacao beans were among the gifts he presented to King Charles. Back in the day, chocolate was so prized and valued that it went by a second name -- "brown gold."
So, how did we get from the cacao seeds that were enjoyed in 600 BC to the chocolate varieties we know and love today?
Well, modern chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which are actually seeds from the fruit of the cacao tree. The beans are fermented, dried, and roasted. Then the shells are removed and the insides (nibs) are ground up and pressed. This produces chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor contains the two main ingredients in chocolate: cocoa butter (the natural fat of the cocoa bean) and cocoa solids. The leftover nibs are ground into cocoa powder.
These ingredients can come together to form all kinds of different chocolate. We've already talked about how cocoa powder is made, but what about chocolate candies and bars?
The composition of different types of chocolate can actually vary quite a lot. Milk chocolate, for example, is made of sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids, and chocolate liquor. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is made of sugar, cocoa butter, and chocolate liquor. It has no milk solids, and contains more cocoa solids than milk chocolate. White chocolate, by contrast, doesn’t have any cocoa solids, just cocoa butter, sugar, and flavorings. See how the ingredients from the same plant, mixed in different proportions, create such different chocolate foods?
Chocolate and Your Health:
Certain compounds in chocolate can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and possibly even prevent blood clots. These elements are called flavanols, which are antioxidants that are part of cocoa beans. Cocoa solids and cocoa powder are both rich in flavanols.
Unfortunately, to tame the bitter flavor of flavanols, cocoa often undergoes “Dutch” (a.k.a. alkali) processing. This improves the taste but removes the flavanols… and their health benefits. This in turn makes choosing a heart-healthy chocolate something of a challenge. Natural cocoa powder that is not “Dutch” or alkali processed has the most flavanols, followed by unsweetened baking chocolate, and then dark chocolate.
Chocolate as a Flavor Booster:
The flavor of chocolate varies based on its composition, but all types of chocolate are flavor-rich. White chocolate adds a mild sweetness to any dessert, while dark chocolate combines bitter notes with a smooth mouthfeel. Milk chocolate does not highlight the same bitterness as dark chocolate and instead adds richness to anything it touches. Cocoa powder offers a depth of flavor that is as good in chili (we're not kidding, try it!) as it is in brownies. With chocolate by your side, you'll never be short on ways to enjoy the taste of eating right!
Feeling inspired? Check out our database of healthful chocolate recipes. Some of our favorites include...
- Banana Split
- Chocolate Mousse with Berries
- Flax Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Raspberry Chocolate Sorbet Pie
- Light Brownies
Nutrition Month is almost here -- how will you help your clients make the most of it? Save time and energy with these wonderful nutrition education materials, which are all based on the latest research on health and nutrition. They're colorful, creative, engaging, and inexpensive! What's not to love?
* The Nutrition Month 2014 theme
Free Handout: Banana Split Recipe Handout
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.