Written with dark chocolate all over my face in Cerritos, CA on November first at 1:06pm
It’s hard for me to even write this post. Just thinking about dark chocolate gets me all weak in the knees. It’s safe to say that if dark chocolate had fingers I’d go Beyonce and put a ring on it. Truth be told it is definitely my guilty pleasure and probably my biggest vice. I’ve been known to eat it for breakfast, eat it while in the shower, and even dip it in a jar of coconut oil and eat it like that (thanks David Millar).
This post is dedicated to all the dark chocolate lovers out there and the reasons why we should eat more of it. Can I get a whoop whoop?
History of the good stuff
Personally I’m a knowledge junkie. I get pretty damn gitty over any new piece of information thrown my way. Just a lover for learning I guess. Here’s a quick little history lesson.
Dark chocolate is derived from the cacao bean which grows on the cacao tree (makes sense). There is a greek translation known as “theobroma cacao,” with theo being the greek word for “god” and broma “food.” Thus the word theobroma translates into food of the gods.
If dark chocolate is good enough for the gods, than it’s good enough for me.
There are four major types of cacao beans:
Criollo: Native to Mexico and Central America
Forastero: Mostly cultivated in Africa
Trinitario: Actually a crossbreed of the Criollo and Forastero. Usually found in Central and South America but parts of Asia as well.
Nacional: Typically found in South America, west of the Andes. The Nacional is the most difficult to grow.
These tropical trees produce chocolate in the raw before we ruin it by adding fat, sugar, and artificial sweeteners that none of us can pronounce. Each bean has a distinct flavor due to the climate, type and quality of soil, amount of sun light, and amount of rain.
What if I told you I’d give you a pound of cacao for your members only jacket (for those that don’t know, click here. Straight ball’n)? Well that’s exactly what people did. It was originally discovered in the amazon rain forest (what good things aren’t right?) and often used as a drink or currency instead of eaten.
So when did the sweet bean go corporate? Swiss inventor Rodolphe Lindt discovered a process known as conching (sounds kinky) which allowed for rolling and smoothing out raw cacao so that it would develop a smoother, richer, and more edible texture that we are familiar with today.
I hung a picture of good ol’Rodolphe above my bed in order to pay my respects. Creepy? Yes. Necessary? Yes.
It wasn’t until Henri Nestle and Daniel Peter began to add milk to this concoction that milk chocolate was born.
What exactly is dark chocolate?
Dark chocolate is essentially chocolate without the milk solids added to it. The more milk solids that are in chocolate the lower the percentage you will see on the wrapper (i.e.: 70%, 85%, 100%). So when you see a package of Lindt dark chocolate and it reads 90% dark chocolate that represents the percentage of cacao solids in the bar.
It is usually made up of cacao, sugar, and emulsifiers (soy lecithin, for texture). The higher the percentage of cacao in the bar the less milk solids, sugar, and emulsifiers it contains. This is why getting as close to 100% dark chocolate is so important. More on this a little later.
You’ll often find different names used like bittersweet, semi-sweet, unsweetened or bakers chocolate.
Bittersweet: Contains a minimum of 35% cacao solids. Most bitterest contains at least 50% cacao solids but can contain varying amounts of sugar so be cautious. Read labels and see how much sugar is added. Look for brands with less that 10 grams, which is usually 80% or darker chocolate.
Semi-sweet: Also usually contains a minimum of 35% cacao solids like bittersweet. You probably think of semi-sweet being sweeter than bittersweet but that might not be the case. Just like bittersweet there are varying amounts of sugar. For the most part you will often find more sugar added to the semi-sweet labels but that might not always be the case.
Unsweetened, AKA-Bakers, AKA-My heaven, AKA-Yum, Yum, Gimme Sum: Unsweetened or bakers chocolate is for the rebel, the misfit, the thrill seeker. When you first bite into a piece of bakers chocolate there is a real good change your face will look like this (face). It contains almost no sugar and has a taste that is extremely bitter. I LOVE IT! So much so that I’d shout it from the roof tops.
Why is it good for us?
One of the main benefits you will hear dark chocolate lovers like myself preaching to eat a little more of the stuff here and there is due to its ability to gobble up free radicals in the body which are often potent in heart disease, eye degeneration, and even cancer.
The sh*tty thing about free radicals is that we actually produce them. Every breath you take, every move you make (wait, am I reciting a Police song)?
Back on track.
Every thing we eat and really everything we do creates free radicals in our body. Free radicals are like the Hamburgler but instead of trying to steal hamburgers they are trying to steal electrons from our bodies. This is because they are missing one and are basically jealous of the healthy cells in your body. One way to combat this is through antioxidants.
Luckily for us the antioxidant capacity in dark chocolate or more specifically in the cacao beans is un-matched. So all this talk about super foods like Acai, pomagranent, and the latest thing found in some jungle can go to heck. The cacao bean is the real super food.
An important thing to remember though is that processing of the cacao bean through mixing, cutting, and addition of ingredients lowers the antioxidant capacity. This is again why it is so important to get as code to 100% dark chocolate as you can to benefit fully from it.
Dark chocolate has also been found to lower blood pressure, improve insulin resistance, reduce the risk of cardio vascular disease, and help with blood clots (studies linked to below if you’re interested.)
Some of the beneficial nutrients found in dark chocolate include the following:
Theobromine: A mild stimulant with a slight diuretic effect that helps to push out toxins. Can also give you a slight/very mild “rush” and acts as a mood enhancement.
Phenlethylamine: Mood enhancer as well and a low potency antidepressant. Works very similar to dopamine and adrenaline in the body. It can also increase levels of serotonin in the brain that can help if you are feeling down, depressed, or dealing with PMS. Also can increase blood circulation and reduce cholesterol.
Loaded with minerals: Dark chocolate contains many essential minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, manganese, and the vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E, and Pantothenic acid.
But what about the fat I see on the label? Good news is that the fat in dark chocolate is often saturated and mono-saturated fat and very little polyunsaturated fat which can be toxic in our bodies (1).
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t saturated fat bad for me? Absolutely not. Besides those facts most of the saturated fat in dark chocolate is from stearic acid which ends up having a neutral effect (2) on cholesterol which is often a concern for many when they think about saturated fat.
Just in case you haven’t got the hint yet here is one more reason to eat some dark chocolate.
It’s loaded with polyphenols, especially flavonoids. You may have read an article or two about the benefits of polyphenols or flavonoids recently. I feel like I see one popping up every couple of days or so. They often are cited as being extremely anti-inflammatory and contributing to lower rates of cardio vascular disease and even cancer (3) Like all studies and research take them with a grain of salt but as of now all things point to A-OK when it comes to polyphenols.
What to look for when dark chocolate shopping
Always choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate despite what talking M&M’s say.
1. Antioxidants are higher in dark chocolate
2. Milk chocolate and the ingredients in them (sugar, trans fats, milk solids, artificial sweeteners to name a few) can lead to hardening of arteries, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and weakening of the immune system.
3. Milk can interfere with the absorption of vital nutrients, especially those flavonoids.
Now that we cleared that up always opt for 70% or darker and in this guys humble opinion for 85% and higher. The more naturally occurring cacao that is available the greater the benefit.
Read labels and look for dark chocolate that has little sugar as possible (under 10 grams). Keep skimming and look for vegetable fat as an ingredient. If it is on their keep shopping around.
Here is an example of a Lindt 85% dark chocolate label (and so, I am not a shareholder in Lindt…yet)
Chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter,
demerara sugar, bourbon vanilla beans.
May contain traces of peanuts/tree
Look for labels that say dried in the sun as opposed to roasting. This helps to keep the antioxidant levels higher as well.
Store bought dark chocolate is often processed and removes polyphenols and flavonoids. This process is called dutching and is done in order to remove the bitterness from polyphenols and flavonoids. Since most of us shop at stores 🙂 you can combat this by opting for the darkest chocolate possible.
Look for brands that may mention the chocolate was under less than 100 degrees farenheit. Not all labels will mention this but if you happen to find one that does it is usually a good bet.
How to, how much, and how about now
Moderation is always a safe bet even for the things that are best for us. Exercise is great for us but too much and it can be detrimental. And as sad as I am to say this, too much dark chocolate can also be bad.
A square or two a day is a great way to kill a sweet tooth or get in a quick snack if you need to stabilize blood sugar. It can also be a great little energy boost and mood enhancer.
Although dairy may interfere with the absorption of some of the nutrients mentioned earlier, melting some dark chocolate in a glass of raw milk can be a pretty awesome and nostalgic drink during a cold afternoon.
If you are worries about the bitterness don’t be, especially if you’ve been doing the Paleo thing for a little while. The lower sugar intake should have reset your palate and taste buds should be operating normally now.
So lets hear it. What are some of your favorite dark chocolate brands? What is the weirdest way you have enjoyed this food of the gods.
A couple of my personal favorites are:
Endangered Species 88%
Who am I kidding… I like them all.