Phone

Foods

Chocolate

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Originally from Mexico, chocolate is one of the world's most appreciated food items, with more than one billion people worldwide consuming some form of it every day. Americans eat a healthy amount of chocolate, averaging about 12 pounds of chocolate a year, but the Swiss consume about twice that amount.

Thomas Jefferson praised "the superiority of chocolate for both health and nourishment"--a prescient statement considering that recent evidence suggests that chocolate is actually good for you. Chocolate is believed to contain more than 600 chemicals that may have important health benefits. A significant health benefit attributed to chocolate is cardiovascular protection. Flavonoids in chocolate function as antioxidants that prevent the build-up of coronary arterial plaque, which is known to contribute to the development of heart disease. One of the flavonoids in chocolate, catechin, is found in tea and is believed to protect your heart as well as your immune system. Catechins may also have anti-cancer enzymes; and they also contain heart-healthy benefits from the suppression of platelet aggregation and the reduction of oxidized LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) blood levels.

Chocolate also contains magnesium, potassium, manganese, and small amounts of protein, vitamin A, phosphorus, calcium, and trace amounts of iron.

A note of caution, however: Chocolate also contains stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid (also found in beef and some dairy foods) that has been implicated as a risk factor in heart disease. The jury is still out on this, because the stearic acid in chocolate comes along with numerous cardioprotective compounds. Chocolate also contains a naturally occuring compound called phenylethylamine whose effects are similar to amphetamines. Although this may account for chocolate "addiction," it may also trigger migraines in susceptible people.

Varieties

Chocolate comes in all shapes and forms including powder, bars, chips, and chunks. They also come in a variety of sweetnesses (depending on the amount of sugar added), creaminess (depending on the amount of cocoa butter added), and chocolatiness (depending on the proportion of chocolate liquor--see below--to other ingredients such as milk or sugar). There are also variations in quality that come from the manufacturing process itself: Naturally enough, the more time and effort spent in making chocolate, the better the quality (and the higher the price).

Chocolate is derived from "chocolate liquor," which is made from cocoa beans that have been treated to remove bitterness: The beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and cracked. This last step in the process separates the beans from their shells by grinding them between steel rollers at a very high temperature. The end result of this process is a sticky, yellow paste (chocolate liquor) that consists of 53% cocoa butter.

Cocoa powder: General term for the portion of chocolate liquor that remains after most of the cocoa butter has been removed by a process that presses the chocolate liquor to extract the butter. The paste that results from this pressing is then cooled, ground, and sifted.

Dutch process cocoa: This cocoa powder is made from chocolate liquor that is treated with alkaline compounds to neutralize the natural acids. It is slightly darker in color and milder in flavor than natural cocoa.

Dark chocolate (bittersweet, semisweet, and sweet): This is made from cocoa, cocoa butter, and varying amounts of sugar. Dark chocolates can be eaten on their own or used in cooking and baking. Depending upon the manufacturer, sweet chocolate is generally molded into bars. Semisweet and bittersweet chocolates are available in bar form, but the bulk of commercially available semisweet chocolate is in the form of chips.

Milk chocolate: This type of chocolate contains cocoa, varying amounts of sugar, milk powder, and flavorings such as vanilla, that are blended with cocoa butter to give it its creamy texture and its sweetness.

Unsweetened chocolate: Primarily used in baking, unsweetened chocolate is a bitter mixture of cocoa powder and refined cocoa butter. No milk solids or sugar is added to unsweetened chocolate.

White chocolate: Contains no chocolate liquor and is made from cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and added flavorings.

Organic chocolate: Becoming increasingly more popular, organic chocolate is made from cocoa from trees that have been harvested without the use of pesticides.

Availability

Supermarkets and specialty shops sell various types of chocolate year-round.

Shopping

Always look at the ingredient list of any bar chocolate or cocoa to make sure that you are buying real chocolate. Bar chocolate that breaks cleanly and is shiny, dark and smells fresh indicates that it is of good or superior quality. The chocolate should smell rich and melt evenly on your tongue. Avoid chocolate that appears grayish, dull, or crystallized, which could signify that the chocolate is old, improperly stored or contains a fat that is something other than cocoa butter. Don't worry about slight traces of white on the surface of chocolate. These slight white areas on the surface indicate that the chocolate has undergone temperature variation that will not influence taste or quality.

Storage

Room temperature is preferable (about 65°F), although you can store chocolate in the refrigerator. Chocolate will keep for several months at room temperature if it is well wrapped and kept away from heat or moisture. Do not freeze chocolate as this interferes with the composition of the cocoa butter and causes the chocolate to crumble.

Preparation

Melting: The safest way to melt chocolate is to finely chop it, place it in a bowl over a pan of warm water and stir until melted. Be especially careful not to get any water in the bowl as this will cause the chocolate to seize and become granular. You may melt chocolate in the microwave, but be aware that chocolate holds it shape even though it is melted. Since you can't tell by looking at it, stir the chocolate several times when melting to prevent burning. Once melted, if you want to keep the chocolate fluid, hold it in a bowl over a pan of warm water.

Nutrition Chart

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder/1 tablespoon

21
Total fat (g)
0.5
Saturated fat (g)
0.3
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
1.4
1
Carbohydrate (g)
3
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
1

Unsweetened Chocolate/1 ounce

148
Total fat (g)
16
Saturated fat (g)
9.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
5.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.5
Dietary fiber (g)
4.4
3
Carbohydrate (g)
8
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
4
Copper (mg)
0.6
Magnesium (mg)
88
Manganese (mg)
0.5
Phosphorus (mg)
118


Date Published: 04/20/2005
Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top