Why is dark chocolate considered healthy?
Good quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60% or more is significantly beneficial to your health. Just an ounce per day provides essential vitamins and trace nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins A, B1, C, D and E. Chocolate contains flavonoids, part of a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols. Antioxidants delay the aging process at a cellular level and are believed to guard against cancer. Flavonoids are directly related to pigmentation. The darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidants will be. Milk bonds to antioxidants during digestion, therefore milk chocolate is not considered a source of antioxidants. Recent research shows chocolate flavonoids encourage vascular wall improvement and blood vessel function. Chocolate may also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. It contains both stearic and oleic acids, one a saturated fat which will not raise bad cholesterol and the other which may raise good cholesterol.
Small amounts of natural stimulants are found in dark chocolate. Caffeine and theobromine are both present, but not in amounts large enough for a strong physical effect. Chocolate has been known to boost serotonin levels and the phenyl ethylamine found in cocoa is a mild mood elevator. Delicious and nutritious, chocolate is nature’s own antidepressant.
How many types of cocoa beans are there?
Cocoa is categorized into the four major species: Criollo, Forestero, Trinitario and Nacional. Found mainly in Central and South America, Criollo has many different sub-varieties and can produce some of the finest beans. With comparatively small yields, the beans are delicately nuanced with nut, spice and fruit overtones. With high cocoa yields, rapid growth and durability, Forestero’s many varieties contribute 80% of the world’s cocoa production. Grown in Asia, Africa, the West Indies and Central and South America, the beans have a robust flavor with fewer nuances than the Criollo varieties. Trinitarios are a crossbreed between Criollo and Forestero trees. Primarily cultivated in Central and South America, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Trinitarios are more resistant to disease than the delicate Criollo and produce fine cocoa beans with intense aroma and high fat content. Nacional is grown mainly in Ecuador and Peru and the beans are delicate and fruity. A predilection to disease prohibits the cocoa varieties of this species from taking a larger role on the world cocoa stage.
What determines the quality of chocolate?
The process begins with good cocoa beans harvested upon maturity. The beans must be properly fermented, dried, roasted, crushed, and conched. Care and attention to detail to each process controls the quality of the finished product. High quality chocolate breaks cleanly and melts uniformly. Chocolate should feel satiny and melt into a lingering velvety finish.
I hear so much about cocoa content. Could you please explain what this means?
Cocoa content is the percentage of cacao in a particular chocolate. Generally, a higher cocoa content equates a more intense chocolate flavor and lower sugar content. However, a high cocoa content does not necessarily mean a delicious chocolate. While many excellent chocolates have high percentages of cocoa so do many inferior chocolates.