With Valentine’s Day coming, I was recently at a store and about to purchase some chocolate. Yes, I know that St. Valentine has nothing to do with chocolates, but, well, there I was. A woman I know saw me trying to select chocolate. “Chocolate?” she said to me. “Why are you looking for chocolate? I thought you only ate health foods. Chocolate is a junk  food!”  

Was she right? Is chocolate a worthless food, something to be avoided?

What Is Chocolate?

Chocolate pods are produced on a smallish tree, grown and harvested in a region 20 degrees below and above the equator. The plants would not grow well in the Pasadena area, unless they were being raised in greenhouses. The pods — maybe a foot long — contain white beans. Once picked, these beans are allowed to ferment for a few days or longer, whereupon they take on their characteristic chocolate aroma and brown color.

Once dried, the beans are typically processed with modern machinery. However, it is certainly possible to process your own, as it’s often done today in Mexico.

During the normal manufacturing process, the beans are first “conched,” which means that  heat and grinding pressure are applied to produce a thick liquid called chocolate liquor.  When this chocolate liquor hardens, bitter — or baker’s — chocolate results. This is indeed bitter, and most people don’t care for it since it has no sweetness.

When this baker’s chocolate is then subjected to great pressure, both a liquid and solid result. The liquid is cocoa butter, and the solid is cocoa. Cocoa butter added back to baker’s chocolate in greater amounts results in bitter-sweet, semi-sweet, or sweet chocolate, three more grades or types of chocolate. The addition of milk creates milk chocolate. Sugar, vanilla and various other ingredients are often also added. 

For example, some of the “designer” chocolates can have hot chilis added, as well as a great variety of nuts, raisins, and even dried fruits.

COMPOSITION OF CHOCOLATE PRODUCTS 

[Source: University of Calif, Berkeley Wellness Letter]

PHARMACEUTICALLY ACTIVE COMPOUNDS IN CHOCOLATE

[Source: Los Angeles Times science writer Usha Lee McFarling, Feb. 16, 2000]

White Chocolate

“White chocolate,” however, is really a misnomer. If a product contains no cocoa, it’s simply not chocolate. Cocoa is the sine qua non of any true chocolate product. So-called white chocolate is made from the cocoa butter, but because it contains no cocoa,  it is  technically not chocolate at all but what I call “bogus chocolate.” And, in some cases if they didn’t even use cocoa butter, but just some cheaper oils. It has no business being called any kind of chocolate.

Since there are so many factors from start to finish, no two chocolate products have exactly the same properties. In other words, when you try to answer the question “Is Chocolate good or bad for me?” you cannot do so without precisely defining what you mean by “chocolate.”  Is it even remotely possible that chocolate might have some redeeming qualities? Fortunately, when you read medical studies of various “good” or “bad” effects from chocolate, they tell you what type of chocolate was fed to the test subjects, and in some cases, the brand of chocolate as well.

Certainly, chocolate is fattening if you consume a lot and are sedentary. A small 12-ounce candy bar typically contains about 220 calories.

The raw bean does contain high amounts of theobromine and caffeine, but these oil-soluble stimulating alkaloids are largely lost during the processing. An average ounce of bittersweet chocolate contains from five to 10 mg. of caffeine, compared with 100 to 150 mg. of caffeine in an average cup of coffee.

White Sugar

So what about cavities and acne — two often-cited results of chocolate consumption?

Although it is commonly believed that eating chocolate causes an increase the incidence of acne, there is no scientific data to support this belief.  Numerous tests with acne sufferers who were fed large doses of chocolate showed that chocolate did not increase the incidence of acne.  It’s much more likely that people are simply eating chocolate at the age when they are getting acne, but one didn’t cause the other.

As for cavities, at least three separate research centers have revealed that the cocoa powder within chocolate contains a substance that actually inhibits cavities.  

The culprit in this case is not chocolate, but sugar. Sugar is clearly a cause of cavities.  Milk chocolate, for example, contains 55 percent sugar by weight. And most often,  chocolate is made with “white sugar,” which is the cocaine of the food industry. White sugar is a foodless “food.” In most cases, the worst thing about chocolate is that it contains so much white sugar. Most commercial chocolate products list white sugar (in any of its various guises) as the primary ingredient.

One way to sidestep the detrimental effects of so much white sugar in chocolate is to make your own chocolate products by mixing cocoa (or bitter or baker’s chocolate) with honey, or other natural sweeteners. There are a few commercial chocolate bars which contain no white sugar, but these are not yet common, and cost up to three times as much as others with white sugar.

The more common chocolate bars often contain more sugar than chocolate. That’s OK if that’s what you like, but because of the high sugar content you’ll get the good with the bad.  And some people might want a quick sugar rush in certain emergency situations.   

Chocolate, properly stored, lasts almost indefinitely. In time, it develops a white coating and gets harder, but is still edible.

Now that we know it’s the sugar that’s the cause of its sometimes bad reputation, is there anything good to say about chocolate?

Ninety percent of the cocoa bean is digestible, comprising 40 percent carbohydrates, 22 percent fat, and 18 percent protein. Chocolate contains substantial amounts of vitamins A, D, B2, as well as vitamin E and K, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, linoleic acids, and phenylethylamine. 

A study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health indicated that people who eat from one to three chocolate bars a month live almost a year longer than those who do not eat chocolate. In fact, chocolate is a quickly assimilated nourishing energy food. Chocolate was taken on all of the American and Soviet space flights, onto all modern battlefields, and it was taken to Mt. Everest on the Hillary expedition. Chocolate  goes with many backpackers, hikers, and hunters on their field trips. 

For a food that is often regarded by many as a junk food or pleasure food, it’s really pretty good for  you.

CHOCOLATE’S ROOTS

I made my first “authentic” chocolate drink by steeping the coarsely ground beans of the chocolate plant in warm water and adding a little honey. If historians are correct, this was the type of beverage — called “xocoatl” — that Cortez found Montezuma drinking.

We found the whole beans quite oily. Once ground and made into a beverage, the drink had the color of weak coffee and was a bit oily. It had a pleasant bitter-chocolate flavor. One cup seemed as stimulating as two to three cups of coffee. It was good!

Montezuma believed chocolate to be a food of the gods, which was brought to the Aztecs by a healer or prophet who traveled over the waters, possibly Quetzalcoatl. To this day, chocolate is known to botanists as Theobroma, or “food of the gods.” It was widely regarded as an aphrodisiac, a food that gave Montezuma the strength do deal with his many wives! 

Chocolate is a valuable energy food for active individuals. As with coffee, tea, and even tobacco, chocolate has the ability to enhance our lives when consumed moderately.  

Shavings

Purchase the hard bakers chocolate. 

Using a cheese grater, grate some over your coffee, your hot cereal, or your ice cream. 

Traditional CHAMPURADO Beverage

4 C masa

2 pieces Mexican chocolate

2 Tbsp carob powder (optional)

dash of sea salt

½ C quality eggnog 

Warmed in pot, and when  chocolate has cooled to approx.120 degrees f., add 1 C milk.

2 C water.

Mud Balls

3 C. uncooked quick-cooking oats

6 Tbsp. Grated dark chocolate

½ C. dry milk

½ tsp. sea salt (optional)

1 C. currants or raisins

½ C. chunky peanut butter

½ C. raw honey

2 tsp. Vanilla

Put the oats, cocoa, dry milk, and salt into a bowl and mix well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix together.  Mix thoroughly. Then, pick up a tablespoon of the mix at a time and roll in to a ball with your hands.  Put into a serving plate and serve.