Chocolate: a smooth, sweet treat that most can’t live without. But little did we know that there are many positives that come with this delight, in moderation of course.
Americans are expected to show their love by spending billions on chocolate for Valentine’s Day this year, but the heart-smartest money may be those gifts that include dark chocolate.
Now, while money can’t buy you love, a gift of dark chocolate may buy you a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dark chocolate is made from cocoa butter instead of milk-based butter. It contains a higher level of cocoa or cacao, around 60-99%. Cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods and it is the high cocoa content in this chocolate that makes it a superior antioxidant. The more cocoa content in chocolate, the richer and bittersweet it becomes in taste. The dry and semisweet taste of this chocolate is attributed to the lack of milk solids in it.
Researchers have found that the main flavonoids found in cocoa are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Flavonoids are a subgroup of polyphenols that are particularly high in dark chocolate and cocoa.
Antioxidants are important to our overall health because they help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals. We consider free radicals the “bad guys.” They are the things we want to reduce in our body that cause plague formation on arterial walls and lead to increases in LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.
However, you cannot eat the entire box or bag of dark chocolate and claim it’s for your health. It doesn’t work that way. Potential health benefits need to be balanced with caloric intake.
A balanced, nutritious diet can include chocolate, but keep portions small. One regular-sized plain milk chocolate bar has about 230 calories and 13 grams of fat, which is about a fourth of the daily fat allowance for most people. In addition to carbohydrates, fats and protein, chocolate provides antioxidant phytochemicals and micronutrients. It is rich in the minerals magnesium, copper and manganese, and also contains potassium, zinc and B vitamins riboflavin and niacin.
Dark chocolates seem to have the highest level of flavonoids, because they have gone through few processing steps. On the other hand, milk chocolate has been processed many times and therefore many of the flavonoids are missing.
As with all foods, we still should consume chocolate in small amounts and balance it with healthy foods rich in vitamins and minerals, including fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The healthiest dark chocolate contains 70% or higher cocoa percentage. Different types are:
• nsweetened chocolate: This is the purest form of dark chocolate, containing anywhere from 85-100% cocoa beans. It may be too bitter for most people to eat. It is also known as baker’s chocolate and it adds a rich chocolate flavor to cakes and cookies.
• ittersweet chocolate: It has 65-80% cocoa beans and about 33% sugar. This may be the best dark chocolate to snack on, as it is not too bitter to taste and has a high cocoa percentage.
• emisweet chocolate: This kind of dark chocolate is a sweeter version, with 35%-60% cocoa and 50% sugar.
• utch-processed dark chocolate: This chocolate has gone through a chemical process known as “dutching” causing it to change color and reduce the bitter flavor. However, during “dutching,” chocolate loses most of its antioxidants, thus less effective for reaping benefits of chocolate.
Try these tasty dark chocolate recipes to satisfy your taste buds:
Dark Chocolate Truffles
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1-2/3 cups (10-ounce package) dark chocolate morsels
Finely chopped toasted nuts, toasted flaked coconut and baking cocoa
Line baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
Heat cream to a gentle boil in medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate. Stir until mixture is smooth and chocolate is melted. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Drop chocolate mixture by rounded measuring teaspoon onto prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Shape or roll into balls; coat with nuts, coconut or cocoa. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.
Salted Dark Chocolate Almonds
1 cup dark chocolate chips
2/3 cup whole almonds
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Melt chocolate by microwaving for 1 minute stirring and repeating until chocolate is smooth and melted.
Place half the almonds in chocolate and stir to coat. Lift out a tablespoonful at a time and place on prepared sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt. Add remaining almonds and repeat process. Allow to set.
Banana Bread Muffins
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 large mashed bananas (as ripe as possible)
1/2 cup vanilla flavored greek yogurt
1/2 cup honey
1 egg (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare muffin tin with liners or grease. I use silicone molds so they are already non-stick.
Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside.
In large bowl, mix mashed banana, yogurt, honey, egg, vanilla and almond milk. Fold dry ingredients into wet until fully combined. Add chocolate chips in and stir.
Place in prepared tin and bake 22-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Dark Chocolate Mousse
6 ounces dark chocolate chopped plus few shavings for garnish
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-3/4 cups cold heavy cream
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Whisk and melt chocolate in double boiler over low heat. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in ground cinnamon and set aside.
Beat cold heavy cream in medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Remove from bowl and place half the mixture into refrigerator and leave other half out on counter.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly add in sugar and continue whipping another few minutes, until somewhat firm. Gently fold whipped egg whites into chocolate mixture until combined. Fold in whipped cream from counter until fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour, until set.
Portion into individual serving dishes and top with remaining whipped cream and shaved chocolate, if desired.
MICHELE ATKINS is the director for the Henry County Extension Service. Her email address is email@example.com.