The following is a living document and is updated regularly.
Need coaxing to trade in chocolate-flavored candy bars for The Real Deal? You already know candy bars are empty nutritional calories, contain high levels of refined sugars and often less than 10% actual chocolate, doing little more than rotting your teeth. But, consider that
- Cocoa is rich in antioxidant flavonoids called flavanols; Studies have shown that people with high blood levels of flavonoids have lower risk of lung cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and type-2 diabetes.
- Chocolate is packed with high-quality polyphenol antioxidants that may reduce the risk of developing heart disease and/or having a heart attack.
- Cocoa may also regulate your cholesterol; In one study, Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at Penn State University reported that people who ate a diet rich in cocoa powder and dark chocolate had lower oxidation levels of bad LDL cholesterol, higher blood antioxidant levels, and 4 percent higher levels of good HDL cholesterol.
- Diabetes and Hypertension suffers rejoice! Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which are one class of polyphenols; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that eating dark chocolate (with 70% or greater cocoa offers 500mg polyphenols) is associated with improved insulin resistance and sensitivity and decreased systolic blood pressure, whereas white chocolate (offering 0mg polyphenols) has no effect.
- You can indulge without the bulge. I don’t have to tell you good followers of the Glycemic Index that when chocolate has a content of 70% or more, the impact on blood sugar levels are negligible. In his lovely book, Slim Forever: The French Way, Michel Montignac places the GI of 70% cocoa (or more) at only 25!
- Cacao nibs are the edible part of the cocoa bean after it has been harvested, dried, fermented and hulled (winnowed). Cacao is rich in magnesium and contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine (stimulants). Other chemicals that naturally occur in cacao include MAI inhibitors (diminish appetite), PEA (similar to what the brain releases when we are in love) and anadamide (the “bliss” chemical which is the same chemical released when we are very happy).
The Carob tree is native to the Mediterranean. The seeds or pods are edible and similar to cocoa, but contain no theobromine. Carob powder is an edible powder or flour made from the ground seeds and pods of this plant, often used as a substitute for chocolate.
What is cocoa powder? Cacao nibs are ground to extract about 75 percent of the cocoa butter, leaving a dark brown paste called chocolate liquor. After drying again, the hardened mass is ground into the powder known as unsweetened cocoa. The richer, darker Dutch cocoa has been treated with an alkali, which helps neutralize cocoa’s natural acidity.
- It is made from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. The cacao tree was named by the 17th century Swedish naturalist, Linnaeus. The Greek term theobroma means literally “food of the gods”.
- A study of 8000 male Harvard graduates showed that chocaholics lived longer than abstainers. Their longevity may be explained by the high polyphenol levels in chocolate which reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins and thereby protect against heart disease.
- In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt added triglyceride cocoa butter to create chocolate bars that readily snap and then melt on the tongue. Cocoa butter begins to soften at around 75 F; it melts at around 97 F.
- More than 300 different constituent compounds in chocolate have been identified.
- Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid. It is the rate-limiting step in the production of the mood-modulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Enhanced serotonin function typically diminishes anxiety.
- Acute monthly cravings for chocolate amongst pre-menstrual women may be partly explained by its rich magnesium content. Magnesium deficiency exacerbates premenstrual tension.
How to Taste Dark Chocolate:
Appreciating Dark Chocolate
Is your favorite missing from this list? Comment with your recommendation! (Or better yet, send samples.)
- Scharffen Berger 70%
- Scharffen Berger 82%
- Scharffen Berger 99%
- Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71%
- Valrhona Le Noir Extra Amer 85%
- Valrhona Guanaja
- Green & Black’s Organic 85%
- Dagoba Organic Conacado 73%
- Dagoba Prima Materia 100% (Madagascar baking chocolate)
- Navitas Cacao Power (organic raw cacao powder)
- New Tree “Pleasure” 73%
- Amedei Toscano 70%
- Hotel Chocolat St Lucia 72%
- William Curley 70%
- Valrhona Cao Grande Noir 70% (organic)
- The Grenada Chocolate Company 71% (organic)
Recommended Flavoured Chocolate:
I rarely eat anything but straightforward, unadulerated chocolate and raw cacao. I’ll even turn down a bar with natural vanilla added. However, most people prefer some variety so it must be noted that the following acompanies offer remarkable standouts. Is your favorite missing from this list? Comment with your recommendation! (Or better yet, send samples.)
Recommended Books and Websites:
The Unassuming Foodie
The Chocolate Connoisseur
French Women Don’t Get Fat-The Secret of Eating for Pleasure
Slim Forever-The French Way
Fine Dark Chocolate
Chocolate and Cocoa: Health and Nutrition
The Chocolate Blog
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light
The Academy of Chocolate (Bonjour, Chloe!)
The Chocolate Note
Chocolate Recipes on Motherhood, Marriage & Other Wild Rides:
The Best Chocolate Cake for Lovers of Real Chocolate
Raw Chocolate Brownies! With Icing!!
Can’t Get Enough Raw Chocolate Brownies