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The Healing Powers of Chocolate
By CAL OREY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2010 Cal Orey
All rights reserved.
The Power of Chocolate
The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.
— Thomas Jefferson
I remember my bags were packed and ready to go to France, Italy, and Spain — countries touted for chocolate — in the spring of 1962 when I was 10 years old. I was excited to experience real hot cocoa and rich chocolate cakes like Marie Antoinette is depicted making in a vintage Parisian poster. I heard my mother talk about trying Sicilian mole and chocolate mousse in an ancient restaurant in Madrid. I tried to imagine smelling and tasting Italian chocolates in a Roman chocolate shop. I'd love to share a genuine, nostalgic chocolate lover's trip of yesteryear with you, but I cannot do that. Why?
The truth is, I didn't go to Europe. However, my mom, a hardworking legal secretary, was treated to a trip abroad by her boss, an attorney, who rewarded her with a round-trip ticket to chocolate paradise. And I stayed home in San Jose, California.
There I was, for three weeks, in our house in the suburbs with my two siblings, father, and Dalmatian, Casey. Cocoa, candy bars, and chocolate milk shakes comforted me and were part of our American diet while Mom was living the good life in Europe, a place where people ate chocolate, the good stuff. But she did bring home tales full of sensory details of exotic and wonderful meals at bistros, and a large, picturesque restaurant menu chock-full of French chocolate delights with titles that I could not pronounce.
That was 47 years ago, and today I can still find myself pondering about visiting quaint European bistros and cafés that create to-die-for chocolates and coffee. Countless people, like me, are fascinated and captivated by the power of chocolate in Europe and other countries around the world, past and present.
Today, as a nature-loving baby boomer who teams health and indulgence while living and working in the Sierra at South Lake Tahoe, I was thrilled to rediscover that Northern California, especially the San Francisco Bay Area, my native home, is a hot spot for chocolate lovers.
The Bean Yields a Powerful Bar
Chocolate has been praised by people — foodies and health nuts — in Northern California and around the world as one of Mother Nature's foods, especially dark chocolate. And now, chocolate shops and bars — and an array of quality chocolate in all forms, flavors, and types — are making the news around the globe and are popular in restaurants, beauty spas, and even our homes.
People from all walks of life, from the West Coast to the East Coast and Europe — including some chocolate makers and contemporary medical experts — believe chocolate helps keep blood pressure down as well as heart disease at bay. Chocolate is also known to help curb cravings, to stave off overindulging in junk food, which can lead to excess pounds and body fat.
Leading scientists on health and nutrition point out in countless studies that research shows dark chocolate contains the same disease-fighting phenols, the same protective compounds that are found in red wine, fruits, and vegetables that fight heart disease.
The author of the national best-seller French Women Don't Get Fat (Vintage Books) praises chocolate, too. "French women eat chocolate (about twelve pounds a year on average). They also eat bread (we fought a revolution over it!). But: French women don't get fat."
SuperFoods HealthStyle (Harper) author Steven G. Pratt, M.D., a world-renowned authority on nutrition, writes in his book: "Dark chocolate is a SuperFood. For many of us, this is a dream come true. The interesting thing is that many people have told me that once they think of chocolate as a food that's beneficial to health, even though they still love and enjoy it, because it's no longer 'forbidden,' they're somehow less tempted to gorge on it."
And thank goodness "forbidden" is a word that no longer applies to chocolate — one of my longtime favorite foods. Approximately 4,000 years ago, in Central America, the Mayan Indians held cocoa beans, the fruit of the cocoa tree, as Mother Nature's "food of the gods," because of its medicinal benefits. Later, it became tagged a "taboo" fatty food. By the late 20th century, a twist of fate turned chocolate back into a health food. And these days, in the 21st century, stacks and stacks of studies show nutrient-rich chocolate is good for the body.
Chocolate with % Cocoa Content
Keep in mind, if you're a health-conscious person like I am, you'll quickly ask, "Which chocolate has the highest cocoa content?" The popularity of premium and specialty chocolates is skyrocketing in the United States, and consumers are noticing the percentage of "cacao" (pronounced ka-cow, the second syllable like the animal) or "cocoa" — the two words are used interchangeably — on the labels of many products, from bars to cocoa beverages. So what gives?
Simply put, this percentage refers to the total content of ingredients derived from the cacao (or cocoa) bean. This includes chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder.
So what do you do if you're on a mission to get a chocolate that is disease-fighting polyphenol-rich? These days, the labeling of chocolate claims the percentage of cocoa content, which can range from 33 percent to 100 percent: 33 percent, 55 percent, 65 percent, 70 percent, 77 percent, and 100 percent. According to the National Confectioners Association, % cacao may suggest several other characteristics of chocolate: A high % cacao means more cacao bean–derived ingredients; therefore, less added sugar. Since a higher % cacao means more cacao bean–related ingredients, this generally means a more intense chocolate flavor. And there's more.
While it's the disease-fighting antioxidants in dark chocolate that both makers and consumers care about, good-tasting chocolate is important, too. These healthful compounds are linked with nonfat cocoa solids, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder. And, the amount of nonfat solids in a chocolate can vary a lot, depending on its recipe. The selection, handling, and processing of cacao beans also play a part in flavonal content. This, in turn, means % cacao may not always indicate the antioxidant content of chocolates or guarantee great taste.
Another interesting note I discovered about quality chocolate is that the higher % in cocoa content tends to be harsher, more bitter, and stronger flavored. It is not as sweet and mellow as milk chocolate. And as with other healthful foods, such as extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it sometimes takes a while to acquire a taste for real chocolate. And once you get there, it is hard to turn back to a mass-market milk chocolate candy bar versus a prestige gourmet 65 percent cacao dark chocolate truffle (especially one infused with herbs, spices, or fruit).
Chocolate Roots 101
Chocolate, one of the oldest foods, comes from the fruit of the cacao tree — native to South America and Central America and now mostly grown in West Africa. Coined theobroma, Greek for "food of the gods" by the Swede Carolus Linnaeus, it has been used since Aztec times as a medicinal agent for dozens of ailments.
These days, cacao beans are grown in several West African countries, South America, the Caribbean, Indonesia, and Hawaii. There are believed to be three chocolate bean varieties used by makers of chocolate. For centuries, scientists and chocolate experts, such as the Dagoba Organic Chocolate company, have noted that chocolate came from three types of cacao: Criollo, which is prized and rare and has thin, light-colored pods and amazing aromas; Forastero, which is more plentiful and has thick pods and pungent flavor; and Trinitario (a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero), which has good aromatic flavor and is easily grown.
But recently, a study led by Mars, Inc., has shown that there are really 10 genetic groups of the chocolate group — Marañon, Curaray, Criollo, Iquitos, Nanay, Contamana, Amelonado, Purús, Nacional, and Guiana — which may help improve cacao taste as well as boost variety, plus increase the trees' immunity to diseases and keep the cost down due to erratic weather conditions, which can destroy a harvest, which may result in slimmer pickings.
The Art of Production
The time and tender loving care put into nature's beans to make quality chocolate is a multiple-step process that contributes to the morphing of cacao beans into chocolate.
While the bulk of chocolate manufacturing is done outside the United States, Scharffen Berger, in Berkeley, California, for one (there are several major manufacturers in America), is known for its fine dark chocolate — made from bean to bar. (The Berkeley factory and store closed in 2009, but is still owned by Hershey, who purchased it in 2005.) My friend, Michelle McHardy, a magazine editor, attended the company's factory tour. She dishes out the details of the amazing creation, which she observed with her own two eyes:
Cleaning Cacao Beans. The fruit grows on the trunk of the tree, making it low to the ground and easy to pick. And the bean cleaner removes dust to twigs from the cacao beans before they are roasted. ... The seeds are small compared to the fruit and taste terrible. The fruit is harvested; the seeds and surrounding pulp are fermented and then the seeds are dried. We were shown a basket of seeds that had been fermented, which are about the size of an almond. You could still see some of the fermented fruit on the beans and they smelled a lot like vinegar. We were warned not to taste the beans; they are still terrible at this point. Next we were shown a basket with beans that had been dried. The dried seeds had brittle shells, were much lighter in weight, and smelled a little better than the first sample. Still, it did not smell like chocolate and they were not something I wanted to try. The third basket we were shown were the nibs, or what is left over after the seeds have been roasted and crushed. Now, finally, they smelled like chocolate.
It's Roasting Time. Once the purchased cacao seeds are cleaned, they are placed in the roaster to be roasted.
Cracking the Shell. The third step is into the winnower, which cracks the bean into smaller pieces called nibs. At the same time, the cocoa dust and shells are sucked away and discarded.
Grinding the Dark Stuff. Next is the mélangeur (a French word that means mixer/grinder), which grinds and crushes the nibs ... causing the cacao butter to be released.
Mixing It Up. And it was time to observe the conche refiner, where the ingredients for a particular recipe are added; this includes additional cacao butter, sugar, vanilla, and soy lecithin (an emulsifier — a compound that is added to make all the ingredients blend together). The conche refiner is circular and has blades and teeth that mix everything together, creating a chocolate in liquid form. Due to the heat created by the machine, its top is encased with a jacket of cold water. The mix remains in the conche for 40–60 hours, depending on the recipe.
The Cooling-Heating Spin. Then the chocolate is moved to the holding tanks/agitators that keep it warm while awaiting its journey to the tempering units. The units are a series of tanks that heat and cool the chocolate appropriately in order to produce a product that is glossy, breaks crisply, and melts smoothly.
Shaping the Goods: Molding Machine. The chocolate is then sent to the molding line, where a precise amount of chocolate is pumped into rectangle molds or is hand molded. And it's time for the finale: when the chocolates are packaged by hand. (Refer to Chapter 15 for more details to experience during a chocolate factory tour.)
Grades of Chocolate
In a cocoa fruit shell, there are four grades of chocolate: mass market, mass-market premium, gourmet, and prestige varieties. Mass-market chocolate often contains less cocoa, and more artificial flavoring and additives, and cocoa butter is sometimes replaced with hydrogenated oils, which cost less for the chocolate maker.
The price range for chocolate varies. Author Clay Gordon, who wrote Discover Chocolate (Gotham Books), has broken up chocolate grades into four groups, which I found to be an easy to follow quality gauge. Here, I have decoded and translated his expertise into Cal-ese. And I have personally sampled from the groups — the grades are in working order; but note, chocolate preferences are often subjective, just like choosing a favorite purebred canine:
Mass market: less than $15 per pound. Don't get excited. Ingredients and production techniques are not to be compared with those of the higher-end chocolates. Sample: Hershey's bar.
Mass-market premium: $15 to $25 per pound. You are entering a healthier chocolate land. You will find some "no-no" fats in the chocolate, and the odds are that artificial flavorings will be part of it. Production will be done by machine, and the flavor will be in the Belgian and American styles. Sample: See's Candies.
Gourmet: $25 to $40 per pound. Welcome to chocolate semi-bliss. Some "bad" fats may be lurking in your chocolate, but it will be minus artificial coloring or flavorings. Sample: Lake Champlain Chocolates.
Prestige: more than $40 per pound. You have entered chocolate bliss. Forget artificial stuff or non–cocoa butter fats, and hydrogenated fats. Also, prestige chocolates will entice your eyes with delicate detail and titillate your taste buds because they'll be handmade with tender loving care. Sample: Christopher Norman Chocolates.
"The price of a chocolate helps set expectations for quality, especially with respect to the ingredients that should be used," Gordon notes.
And chocolate is more than just fine chocolates — truffles and bars. Chocolate comes in many forms. Add beverages (e.g., cocoa to coffee lattes); baked goods (e.g., biscotti to cookies), frozen varieties (e.g., ice cream to sorbet), and candy (e.g., fudge to truffles).
Chocolate and its cocoa beans have made a healthful comeback from their original roots, centuries ago. In fact, chocolate makers (the people or companies that make chocolate from raw cocoa beans) and chocolatiers (the people who purchase chocolate from the manufacturers and make chocolates using it and other ingredients) are noting the health perks on their products.
And consumers are now learning what people knew centuries ago. Medical researchers, doctors, and nutritionists are discovering good news about chocolate every day. True, in the past it was not known exactly how or why chocolate had healing powers — but it did. It's clear as a cup of hot chocolate that explorers to royalty knew that chocolate had versatile virtues, worked wonders, and was as good as money growing on trees.
The Surprising Secrets to Savor
New research shows that quality dark chocolate, which is derived from a variety of cocoa beans in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia — as well as other places 20° below the equator around the globe — may help you to:
[check] lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.
[check] enhance your immune system.
[check] stave off diabetes.
[check] fight fat.
[check] slow the aging process.
[check] add years to your life.
Most important, the quality of chocolate matters — a lot — for your health's sake. Chocolate makers to medical doctors recommend chocolate that is natural, organic, and has a low sugar content.
In this book, I will show you how using chocolate (and other forbidden health foods) is one of the best things you can do for yourself — and your health. But note, many people will not want to reap the benefits of chocolate by indulging in the dark stuff. While chocolate candy is great solo, chocolate is also used in a great variety of foods. Chocolate has a vast number of uses in cooking and baking, and I've included dozens of recipes — from entrees to desserts — to help heal your body, mind, and spirit. And versatile chocolate can do so much more when used both internally and externally.
But first, let's go way, way back into the past. Let's take a close-up look at why and how chocolate is one of the world's first — and most prized — natural medicines.
Excerpted from The Healing Powers of Chocolate by CAL OREY. Copyright © 2010 Cal Orey. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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