Sweet Sensations – Chocolate

chocolateOften when we consider eating a chocolate, there is a fair amount of guilt that comes along with it (sometimes). It’s time to toss those guilty feelings. Moderate consumption of chocolate may have the same benefits as eating fruits and vegetables; key word here is moderate.

A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Flavanols found in rich dark chocolate has been shown to reduce high blood pressure. Flavanols are powerful antioxidants that are present in fruits, vegetables and get this, red wine. The word antioxidant gets thrown around quite a bit. We know in general that it’s something that is good for us, but can’t really put a finger on exactly what it is. Here’s the short and sweet version. Antioxidants release free radicals that clean up the debris in our circulatory system. Still scratching your head? Ok, if you take a piece of metal and pour water on it and let the water sit, the metal will start to rust. Now take a bottle of an anti-rust solution and soak the metal in it and the rust is cleaned up. That’s similar to how antioxidants containing free radicals work in our arteries, they clean up the debris. Now that you know the nutritional benefits of eating chocolate, how about some guidelines how much to eat.

Take it Easy

This is not a license to gorge on chocolate. It means you can let go of any guilt associated with eating it. A small amount is OK. While we’re on the subject of small, it’s time to clarify what that means as well. A 1.4 oz bar of dark chocolate is an average serving. It only contains 200 calories and 11 grams of fat. If you think your daily caloric intake won‘t allow for it consider on of these substitutions.

Omit a pat of butter from your toast, or a spoonful of mayonnaise from your sandwich.

Consider reduced fat or fat free salad dressing.

Take your coffee black, instead of with cream.

Fact vs. Fiction

Chocolate is not addicting. People say they “crave” chocolate, most time meaning they’d just like to have some. An addiction is a serious medical and emotional condition, which in all likelihood requires some sort of intervention.

It does not cause diabetes.

Tooth decay is not caused by eating chocolate. Any fermenting carbohydrate left in the mouth too long will contribute to dental problems.

Chocolate is not high in caffeine. One ounce of chocolate is the equivalent of one cup of caffeinated coffee.

Eating chocolate does not cause migraine headaches.

The cocoa butter content of chocolate does not raise blood cholesterol levels.

Good to You, Good for You

We’ve all been told many times about some things being too good to be true. Well, this is a good thing and it is true. Eat chocolate, even have a glass of red wine and you’ll be doing your heart a favor. How cool is that!

Types of Chocolate

Before we get into the types of chocolate, you should know that all chocolate is not created equal. Chocolate formulas are unique to each manufacturer. They establish their own bean blend, and flavorings. Most important is the determination of the amount of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. Are you scratching your head wondering if you clicked on to the right category? You’re in the right place but there’s a bit of background information that’s necessary.

In the Beginning

In the beginning there was a cacao tree (pronounced ka-kow). The seeds from this tree are cocoa beans. Once harvested, the center of the cocoa bean called the nib is ground into a smooth liquid paste called chocolate liquor. There is no actual liquor in it (darn it). The liquor gives off a natural fat when it is pressed, this is cocoa butter. Again the word is a tad misleading; it’s not a dairy product. Once the cocoa powder is forced out of the chocolate liquor the result is cocoa powder. Clear as mud right?

What it All Means

When manufacturers refer to the cacao content, they’re speaking of the combination of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. By the way, cocoa and cacao are often used interchangeably.

At Long Last, Chocolate

Regulations

Milk – Very creamy, contains at least 10% unsweetened chocolate. Take extra precautions when melting because it has a lower solid cocoa content and dried milk powder.

Sweet – Also known as dark chocolate, has at least 15% unsweetened chocolate. Only contains the liquor and cocoa butter, sometimes with emulsifiers and other flavorings.

Bittersweet – Has a high cocoa solid content, up to 50% unsweetened chocolate. Often has milk, sugar and emulsifiers.

Unsweetened – This is bitter chocolate, not bittersweet. It has no sugar but does have a full chocolate flavor.

White Chocolate – Officially not a chocolate at all because it doesn’t have any chocolate liquor. It’s made of cocoa butter, milk, and sugar.

Carob – Also not a chocolate, but similar tasting. It’s used by individuals allergic to chocolate or as a healthier alternative. It has less fat and no caffeine. If carob powder is not available cocoa powder can be substituted.

Couverture – Chocolate with at least 32% cocoa butter. Very fluid in its liquid state.

 The percentages on the various types of chocolate are an easy identifying method. They let you know just how much actual chocolate you’re getting. There is a set of federal regulations called the Standards of Identity that oversees the legal definitions of chocolate. Could be a fun job, you never know

 

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