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Chocolate's Dark Secret

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Small amounts of pure chocolate produced by trained, quality conscious chocolatiers is far more delicious and better for your health. Dark chocolate, without the ingredients added for extension of shelf life or taste enhancement, is the best.

Have you recently bitten into a piece of chocolate only to encounter a waxy, sickly sweet sensation in your mouth?

That taste is a mixture of sugar, additives and vegetable oils flavoured with only the tiniest bit of chocolate. Unfortunately, simulating chocolate using poor quality fats and sugars is the story behind most mass-produced chocolate.

On the flip side, small amounts of pure chocolate produced by trained, quality conscious chocolatiers is far more delicious and better for your health. Dark chocolate, without the ingredients added for extension of shelf life or taste enhancement, is the best.

When selecting a chocolate treat, choose one that lists chocolate, or chocolate liquor, cocoa or cacao as the first ingredient. A quality ratio is a 60 to 70 percent cocoa mass with the remaining 30 to 40 percent containing no oils other than natural cocoa butter, as well as no preservatives and no artificial flavourings. Dark chocolate has the added benefit of being a mood enhancer as it boosts the brain's levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and endorphin.

Beware milk chocolate, which has far more fat and sugar, but less cocoa and fewer antioxidants than dark chocolate. White chocolate is a mixture of fats (including some cocoa butter), milk and sugar but contains no chocolate in the form of cocoa or chocolate liquor.

Certified organic chocolate found in health food stores not only tastes wonderful, but also has natural ingredients such as flavonoids (flavan-3-ols) and phenols (phenyl ethylamine) that are recognized antioxidants. Antioxidants offer protection against heart disease and slow the oxidation of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol. In slowing the oxidation of LDL, antioxidants help to prevent dangerous build-up of artery blocking plaque.

Those of us with a global conscience as well as a taste for the finest organic chocolate should look for the "certified fair trade" label. Ottawa-based chocolate producer La Siembra Co-operative is the first in North America to be certified fair trade. La Siembra's Cocoa Camino Bittersweet chocolate bar won gold in the organic category at the 2003 alive Magazine Awards of Excellence and was honoured again in 2004 for the Cocoa Camino Organic Dark Chocolate with Almond bar. (See lasiembra.com).

When it comes to giving chocolate as a gift, a tiny box of organic handmade chocolates produced from the purest cocoa and without added oils, preservatives or flavourings, is sure to impress anyone who craves delicious chocolate.

On Valentine's Day, it is customary to present our sweetheart with chocolate as a token of our affection. Love that is pure can do no harm and chocolate that is pure can do no harm. Add in the fact that pure, dark chocolate is a wonderful, mild aphrodisiac that invokes a temporary state of bliss, and you have yourself a winning formula.

On February 14, make an impact on the one you love with a gift that is healthy and loving beautiful, rich dark chocolate.

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