Chocolate – Darker is Better
Last year, I lost a wonderful friend to cancer late last year. She was one of the most amazing people I have ever known. We shared a friendship that spanned 22 years. During one of our “power lunches” before cancer struck her, she told me she was shifting her priorities away from “work” to spend more time with the important things in life, like her husband (who is equally awesome) and daughters. During that lunch she we were munching down on some tacos when she chimed in, “You know Dave, I can’t think of one good reason why we should eat dessert at the end of the meal. Life is too short to keep the best till last.” She loved chocolate, yet she was thin, except for her smile that was very wide.
Not having a sweet tooth, I have never done cartwheels over chocolate. The typical chocolate candy bars you frequently see on television commercials are merely something to fill the racks at the checkout stand. Then it happened. I discovered “real” chocolate. Not the carnauba wax-filled junk that will last for eons and is loaded with tons of processed sugar. No baby, I mean the high cacao dark chocolate with a bittersweet bite that says, “Take that,” with a delightful smack to your pallet. We’re talking 70% to 90% pure cacao that starts melting in your hand, forcing you to eat it quickly to keep that goodness from spreading on your hands instead of your mouth.
Seriously, healthy chocolate does not come filled with gooey caramel, crunchy sponge-like stuff or any kind of liqueur in it. A good quality chocolate cannot be “had” for fifty cents. Excellent dark chocolate bars measuring about 3 inches by 6 inches will typically start in the $3 dollar range and upward. The higher the cocoa content the less sweet the chocolate will be. I prefer chocolates with a minimum of 70% cocoa and up, because I can eat more of it without becoming overloaded with sugar; and it’s healthier. Once you decide to explore, understand and enjoy truly great chocolates, eventually you will grow to appreciate the darker, richer and heavier (bitter) products available. It is not unlike most people’s experience with wine. Initially, one often prefers the lighter sweeter wines when first tasting and learning about wine. But once you started learning how to pair wines with food, the heavier Cabernets and Merlots started filling your wine case. Trust me. There is life beyond milk chocolate.
America is now starting to approach Europe when it comes to knowledge and appreciation for quality chocolates. Chocolatiers (someone who makes confectionery from chocolate) are popping up everywhere. These are folks whose profession requires knowledge in chemistry, chocolate tempering, molding, decorating, etc. They can start as confectionary or pastry chefs, or as an enthusiast. Formal chocolatier schools are found in Switzerland, France, Italy, Canada and now in the U.S. and there are even some online. What’s the point? It is simply getting easier to find gourmet chocolates and the prices are starting to come down. That’s good news for the health-conscious.
Now for the great news: While chocolate is healthy for you, it does not mean you can stack pounds of bonbons next to you in bed, with the remote in one hand and a martini glass in the other, settling in for the next few months. Chocolate is a small portion of an overall healthier diet, balanced with exercise. In moderation, you can delight in the magnificent taste of dark chocolate guilt-free.
Dark chocolate contains lots of stearic acid (a saturated fatty acid with a neutral effect on cholesterol), magnesium, copper, potassium, manganese, and most significant, flavonoids. Flavonoids are phytochemical plant pigments that act as natural antioxidants, neutralizing free radicals that can damage body tissue and cells. NOTE – Since dairy can interfere with the absorption of these antioxidants, only dark chocolate — not milk — offers benefits.
Flavonoids also hinder platelet aggregation and improve blood-vessel flexibility, helping to prevent hardening of the arteries. Traditionally made (minimally processed) dark chocolate actually contains more flavonoids per gram than any other food, including green tea, red wine, and blueberries. The good news doesn’t stop there: The high percentage of cocoa in dark chocolate also gives it a low glycemic index, therefore producing only small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels (diabetics, take note).
For the maximum health benefit, buy traditionally prepared or “artisan” chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa to guarantee the lowest glycemic index. It will keep for up to a year if kept away from moisture and humidity in a cool, dark place (around 65 degrees). Those who have a wine cooler have a nice place to store their chocolate since wine storage temperatures are only about 10 degrees cooler than the recommended 65 degrees. Good chocolate should have a high-gloss sheen, not a “bloomed” (blotchy, almost dusty) look. There are a few exceptions to this. You should hear a solid snap when you crack off the corner of the bar, proof that it was tempered (or melted and cooled to the desired crystal structure) properly. Because chocolate starts to soften at about 97 degrees, good chocolate should melt in your hand. Keep your consumption to about an ounce per day and you can maintain that great figure.
Appetite suppression. Due to the high amount of (healthy) fat in chocolate, eating some chocolate about 30 to 45 minutes before a meal will help suppress your appetite. Follow it with at least 8 oz. of water.
Be good to yourself. Eat a healthy chocolate dessert before your meal. As my friend said, “Life is too short to save the best for last.”
Here is a great quick and delicious chocolate crunch recipe from EatingWell, January/February 2009.
1 cup Rice Chex cereal, (2 ounces)
1 cup pretzel sticks broken in half, (2 ounces), use Glutino Pretzels for gluten-free diets
1/4 cup salted roasted almonds, (2 1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips, melted (see Tip)
Combine Chex, pretzels and almonds in a medium bowl. Drizzle with melted chocolate; stir to combine. Spread the mixture on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.
Tips & Notes: To melt chocolate: Microwave on Medium for 1 minute. Stir, then continue microwaving on Medium in 20-second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval. Or place in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling, water. Stir until melted.
Blessings to you and those you love.
Chef David Hall
Thyme for a Chef, LLC