Health Benefits of Chocolate
Satisfying your sweet tooth may also help protect you against cardiovascular disease. Chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, most notably epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins.
Cocoa, and its special mix of antioxidant flavonoids, has been widely studied for its heart protective effects. Several studies have found that consuming cocoa products reduces platelet aggregation in arteries, which is a step in the formation of plaque that can clog arteries.
The flavonoids in cocoa also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties and may help to lower blood pressure. Epicatechin and catechin in cocoa are antioxidants that can remove damaging free radicals in the body and protect the body’s own antioxidant defenses.
High intakes of foods rich in flavonoids, such as cocoa, are associated with reduced risk of death caused by heart disease.
The History of Chocolate
Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree, which grows in Central and South America. The scientific name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao, which means “drink of the gods”. Many believe that cocoa consumption began with the Aztecs, who drank a bitter tasting drink made from ground cacao beans mixed with water and seasoned with vanilla, pimiento and chili pepper.
The Spanish brought cocoa to Europe in the 16th century, after the discovery of the New World. In Europe, sugar replaced chili pepper to create the more modern, sweet version of hot cocoa. This new, sweetened beverage became a luxury that only the rich could afford. Cocoa became more widely available when other countries besides Spain began to cultivate cacao in their colonies. Soon chocolate appeared in cakes and pastries.
In 1828, a Dutch chocolate maker named Conrad J. van Houten introduced the first cocoa powder. He invented a method of pressing roasted cacao beans to remove the fat, or cocoa butter from the center of the bean. He then crushed the product into a fine powder, which is what we now call “cocoa”. He added alkaline salts to the powder to make it mix more easily with water. This final product is now called “Dutch cocoa”.
The first chocolate bars were made by mixing cocoa powder with sugar, then remixing this with the cocoa butter to create a solid.
Milk chocolate was invented in 1879 by adding powdered milk to chocolate mixture.
Types of Chocolate
Chocolate varieties are classified based on the amount of cocoa solids they contain (which includes cocoa and cocoa butter). Cocoa butter is the vegetable fat portion that is extracted from the center of the cacao bean.
White chocolate is technically not chocolate because it contains a very low level of cocoa solids. White chocolate is made from a mixture of cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla.
Milk chocolate is sweet and normally contains 10-20% cocoa solids and more than 12% milk solids. It is rarely used for baking.
Dark chocolate has a higher content of cocoa solids than milk chocolate, ranging from 35-80%. Dark chocolate with a higher content of cocoa solids will have less sugar and taste more bitter.
Unsweetened chocolate is almost 100% cocoa solids and is only used for baking.
Moderation is Key
It is important to enjoy chocolate in moderation. Chocolate still has fat and sugar, and eating too much can cause weight gain. There is not enough evidence to make a general recommendation as to how much chocolate an individual should consume, but it is important to not eat chocolate in excess.
Enjoy the health benefits by making chocolate recipes.