What is it about chocolate that capture's everyone's interest? Are there any facts about chocolate that explain why no other food offers so much sensual pleasure and elevation of mood? Do you know anyone who doesn't get excited about chocolate?
If that wasn't enough, chocolate (specifically the dark varieties), is beginning to be recognized for its amazing health benefits. Dark chocolate is known for its exceptionally high antioxidant content, and offers all of the antioxidant benefits of foods such as green tea and red wine. Let's take a look at all of the facts about chocolate that are contributing to its new-found reputation.
The known history of chocolate goes back as far as 1500BC, when the Olmec Indians, a Pre-Columbian civilization living in south-central Mexico, grew cocoa beans as a domestic crop.
Mayan and Aztec civilizations were the next to discover the value of the cacao bean, the natural source of what we know as chocolate. In the 16th century, Mayan nobles brought gift jars of cocoa with them on their first visit to Eurpoe, introducing it to western civilization for the first time. From there, the use of chocolate spread widely across the rest of Europe — and then, the world.
See History of Chocolate for more details.
The cacao tree is a tropical plant that grows only within 20 degrees latitude of the equator. The main cacao-producing countries are the Ivory Coast and Ghana, although there are numerous smaller markets in South America and Africa.
Cacao is the seed (nut) of a fruit of an Amazonian tree. The cacao tree produces pods all year long, so a typical tree would have pods in every stage of ripeness. Because of this, most harvesting is done by hand, with machetes.
In 1753 Carl von Linnaeus, the 18th-century Swedish scientist, thought that cacao was so important that he named the genus and species of this tree himself. He named this tree: Theobroma cacao, which literally means "Cacao, the food of the gods."
Travel to the Amazon lowlands of Peru and watch cacao pods being harvested in this short video created by the Navitas Naturals company, one of the finest producers of true cacao products.
See How is Chocolate Made? for more details.
Visit my Navitas Naturals Store
to get the best price on pure raw cacao.
Here are the common types of chocolate found in most areas, from the least-processed to the most-processed:
Milk chocolate, the least healthy variety, is also the most popular type of chocolate in North America — 71% of chocolate eaters prefer milk chocolate.
See Types of Chocolate for more details.
The raw cacao bean is one of nature's most nutritious superfoods, due to its mineral content and wide array of unique properties, including a high level of antioxidants called flavonoids.
Cacao contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world, along with a full spectrum of nutrients found naturally in different fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants include polyphenols, catechins, and epicatechins. By weight, Cacao has more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, acai, pomegranates, and goji berries combined.
Dark chocolate (65 percent or higher cocoa content) has far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. These other two chocolates have very few of the health benefits of dark chocolate.
See my page on Antioxidant Facts to discover more about antioxidants.
Chocolate also contains high amounts amino acids from which the body builds protein and also dopamine (which scientists believe stimulates the brain’s pleasure receptors) and adrenaline.
Most commercial chocolates are highly processed and do not have the nutritional value of raw chocolate. The more chocolate is processed (through things like fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost. The good news is that most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates.
Chocolate is definitely a high-calorie, high-fat food. The fats in chocolate are mostly “good” fats: oleic acid (also found in olive oil) and stearic acid, which the human body can convert to oleic acid. Although there’s a small amount of saturated fat in chocolate, the alleged connection between saturated fat intake and heart disease has been thoroughly debunked.
A one-ounce (28g) serving of chocolate contains 130-150 calories (most of them from fat), with 9-12g of fat. Raw chocolate, however, also has 9g of fiber and 4g of protein, whereas dark and milk chocolate has very little of either.
See Nutrients in Chocolate for more details.
The health benefits of dark chocolate have only recently made it into mainstream thinking. It shouldn't have really surprised anyone — chocolate comes from the seed of a tropical tree, which means it inherently has many of the health benefits of other plant-based foods.
Dozens of clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the health benefits of dark chocolate — and the results are overwhelmingly positive. These include benefits for your cardiovascular system, prevention of osteoporosis, cancer prevention, and improved mental alertness. Dark chocolate also possesses powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.
Discover more of the Benefits of Dark Chocolate
and learn how to choose the healthiest type of chocolate to eat.
For best tasting, chocolate should be at room temperature. This allows the chocolate to begin to melt the moment it hits your mouth. Cold chocolate doesn't release its flavors and aromas as quickly, altering the tasting experience.
Good chocolate should have a shiny, even gloss on its surface. If chocolate is too old, it will develop a hazy finish called 'bloom.'
Good chocolate should literally "melt in your mouth." Chocolate melts at about 97 degrees. While melting, the chocolate should feel rich and luscious in your mouth. You don't need to chew good chocolate at all, just let the flavors release on their own.
In addition to the ingredients, texture depends largely on the processing. The “made with love” concept applies to chocolate; the longer it's processed, the silkier the chocolate.
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