Creamy, dreamy, rich, and intoxicating
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Think chocolates just for sweet treats? These recipes demonstrate that chocolate lends itself to sweet or savoury dishes while imparting numerous health benefits.
Great news for chocolate lovers lies in the raft of research demonstrating that those morsels in the heart-shaped box could be “choc” full of health benefits. The latest batch of studies suggests that a daily chocolate fix can help reduce blood pressure numbers, lessen the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries, and improve cholesterol levels, thereby potentially slashing heart disease risk by a third.
Other possible health perks include improved skin health, elevated brain functioning, reduced heart-hampering inflammation, and increased levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut. What’s more, according to a recent study in Physiology and Behavior, cocoa may improve the power of our eyesight. Also, a 2011 European Journal of Nutrition study reported that consuming chocolate before a workout can reduce muscle oxidative stress, which could improve exercise recovery.
Why the wide range of body benefits? The various guises of dark chocolate contain lofty amounts of epicatechin and other flavonoids—disease-thwarting antioxidants also found in red wine, tea, and many fruits.
Thankfully for our waistlines, it appears that relatively little chocolate is needed—even as little as 1 oz (28 g) daily—to obtain many of the health benefits. Of course, it is the cocoa in the dark chocolate that delivers these benefits, and the higher the percentage of cocoa the better—aim for at least 70 percent.
Cooking with chocolate
Think chocolate’s just for sweet treats and pastry chefs? Think again.
So much more than a sweet temptation at the grocery store checkout, these recipes demonstrate that chocolate can truly run the sweet and savoury gamut.
Dairy, protein, and exercise protect bones during weight loss
According to a recent study, dairy and protein can protect bone health during a weight loss program that includes frequent exercise. Protein and dairy not only reduced markers of bone degradation but also improved markers of bone formation. These findings are important because dieters can be at risk of bone loss.
One way to get both dairy and an excellent source of protein is Greek yogourt, so athletes should stock up on this delicious favourite to show some love for their bones!
Here’s the lowdown on the main ingredients in a top-notch dark chocolate.
Also called cocoa mass, chocolate liquor is the paste produced by grinding up roasted cocoa beans. It contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter, so it’s where all the antioxidants reside.
The higher the stated cocoa content on the label, the more chocolate liquor the bar contains. White chocolate has none of this, so it is technically not chocolate.
Sugar helps cut the bitterness of the chocolate liquor. Don’t settle for dark chocolate that lists sugar as the first ingredient.
Manufacturers add additional cocoa butter—the isolated fatty part of the cocoa bean—to give chocolate its to-die-for, melt-in-your-mouth quality.
Used as an emulsifier, lecithin gives chocolate a smooth, less viscous texture.
Vanilla is added in very small amounts to complement the flavour of cocoa. Steer clear of products with artificial flavouring.
Beyond that, there are tons of ingredients being mixed into chocolates these days, including chili, sea salt, acai, ginger, and espresso. Why not give them a try?
Seeking out products with these labels can make your afternoon chocolate habit feel even better.
Fair Trade Certified
Cocoa beans are often grown in economically challenged communities. A Fair Trade certification means that the cocoa beans (and sometimes other ingredients as well, such as sugar) used to make the chocolate were sourced from farmers who were paid above-market prices, allowing for a better quality of life.
Chocolate bearing a certified organic label assures that the cocoa was grown sustainably and without dangerous chemicals.
Most of the chocolate sold in stores is made by blending cocoa beans from different countries. In a “single origin” chocolate all the beans were sourced from one country, perhaps even from a single farm. Chocolate aficionados believe chocolate, like wine, has terroir, with different growing regions offering different flavour nuances such as fruity, nutty, and smoky.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
Chocolate that is certified by the Rainforest Alliance contains cocoa from farms that strive to conserve the habitat of threatened plant and animal species by reducing rainforest removal. This also reduces the need for nasty pesticides, as cocoa grown under the forest canopy is less prone to damage from pests.
Choosing the best chocolate
Not all chocolate is created equal. These versions deliver the biggest wallop for health and flavour.
It is important to choose a chocolate bar with cocoa content of at least 70 percent. The higher the cocoa percentage, the higher the dose of antioxidants and the lower the sugar content. This should be clearly stated on the package; if not, move on.
Healthy flavonoids are what make chocolate bitter, so progressively develop your palate through a range of chocolate bars with a higher cocoa content until you really enjoy the more intense ones.
Best uses: try shaving it over oatmeal and desserts, or melt it and add to sauces.
Take cocoa beans, pummel them to bits and you’re left with pleasantly bitter cocoa nibs—chocolate as close to its natural form as possible.
On top of supplying tons of antioxidants, a mere ounce of crunchy nibs provides 9 g of dietary fibre. While dark chocolate products such as nibs can contain high amounts of saturated fat, the majority of this is stearic acid, which, according to recent research, doesn’t negatively affect heart health.
Best uses: toss them into batters for baked goods, cereal, oatmeal, salads, and yogourt.
Unsweetened cocoa powder
After most of the cocoa butter is pressed from ground cocoa beans, a cakey substance is left behind that can be pulverized into a low-fat powder. According to a USDA study, the ORAC value—oxygen radical absorbance capacity, a measure of antioxidant power—of unsweetened cocoa powder is 12 times higher than that of blueberries.
Opt for natural or raw cocoa powder over Dutch-processed, which is treated to give it a milder flavour but lays waste to most of the flavonoids.
Best uses: add it to chocolate desserts such as cakes and brownies, blend it into smoothies, or mix it into oatmeal, stews, and chilis. Also add it to spice rubs for chicken, pork, tofu, and steak.
Baking or unsweetened chocolate is pure cocoa, making it chockablock with antioxidants. Although baking chocolate is very bitter on its own, it lends a luscious chocolatey flavour when it’s melted and combined with sweeteners in items such as cakes, barks, and brownies. When various amounts of sugar are added, bittersweet or semisweet baking chocolate is created.
Chocolate extract is similar to vanilla extract but it is made with roasted cocoa nibs. It has an intense chocolate aroma and flavour that functions to further enhance the chocolate taste in recipes. It can be slightly more difficult to track down than vanilla extract but can be found in some health food stores.
Best uses: add it to any recipe calling for vanilla extract, or use it to jazz up a bowl of yogourt or a mug of coffee.