"Make a list of important things to do today. At the top of your list, put ‘eat chocolate.’ Now, you'll get at least one thing done today."The number of published technical papers on chocolate and cocoa is quite amazing. One would be forgiven for thinking that University Land is populated with chocoholics desperately trying to prove that chocolate is really good for you. I was wondering where the researchers got the money to buy all the chocolate bars they used in research, and I had visions of a man with a moustache and a loud suit handing the head of a university department a bag of money and a large carton of chocolate bars with instructions to prove that chocolate cures obesity. I thought I was being facetious when I wrote that last line but researchers at Pennsylvania State University concluded that “This study demonstrates that cocoa polyphenols can inhibit digestive enzymes in vitro and may, in conjunction with a low-calorie diet, play a role in body weight management.”
Cocoa, the main constituent of chocolate, has been in use for centuries and is known in its bitter form as a medicinal drink. It is thought to cure or prevent many illnesses including stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes. Cocoa butter is also used in cosmetics as a wrinkle remover, beauty treatments, and in pharmaceuticals.
Chocolate is good for you claim researchers from Monash University in a paper published in the British Medical Journal on the 31 May 2012. Research has shown that if you eat 100g of dark chocolate (70% or more cocoa solids) per day you will help protect yourself against cardiovascular disease. The researchers predicted that daily dark chocolate consumption could prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events per 10,000 people over a 10-year period. Other studies have suggested improved brain function. The secret ingredients are the flavonoids that occur naturally in the cocoa constituent of chocolate. The cost of the chocolate therapy will add from $7 to $14 per person per week to your food bill depending on your taste in chocolate. I wonder if the researchers at Monash saw a similar paper published in Italy which recommended one square of dark chocolate every three days.
Chocolate is made from cocoa which is made from the dried and fully fermented fatty seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree. The cacao tree is a native of Central America and is now grown between 10 degrees either side of the equator in many countries including Australia. Ghana is reputed to produce the best beans. There is a strong move to buy only ‘Fair Trade’ cocoa in an attempt to stop child slavery in the cocoa harvesting industry in some countries. Cocoa plantations are generally a family business in Australia.
The taste of the cocoa solids can be affected by weather, soils and the way the cocoa bean is picked, fermented, dried and roasted. In Africa it is not unusual to use bare feet to agitate the beans during the fermenting and drying process, reminds me of grape crushing for wine. The beans are usually sun dried as other processes negatively affect the flavour. Cocoa has a naturally bitter taste which gets worse with poor processing.
As stated earlier, cocoa is a fatty seed and it is usually pressed to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter in about equal quantities.
Cocoa solids contain important antioxidants (flavonoids) and are rich in essential minerals including calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc and the vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and pantothenic acid. Cocoa solids also contain caffeine, serotonine, theobromine and phenylethylamine. Carbohydrate content is mainly starch with some sugar. One antioxidant, epicatechin, is considered so important that some scientists want it listed as a vitamin.
Cocoa butter mainly consists of two saturated fatty acids (palmitic and stearic acids) and one mono-unsaturated acid (oleic acid). Cocoa butter does not raise blood cholesterol.
Dark chocolate is made mainly from cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar; milk chocolate is a mix of cocoa solids, sugar, cocoa butter, and milk solids. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids and must contain at least 20% cocoa butter. Some chocolate content labels link together cocoa solid and cocoa butter as ‘cocoa solids’.
Chocoholics, you are safe, cocoa is not classified as an addictive substance and chocolate is no more addictive than any other foods containing sugar. There is a feeling of well being when eating chocolates or taking a cocoa drink at night and this can be attributed to the serotonin, phenylethylamine, and other calming constituents of the cocoa solids. Serotonine levels are often decreased in people with depression and in those experiencing PMS symptoms. Phenylethylamine is a slight antidepressant and stimulant similar to the body's own dopamine and adrenaline. Women find the soothing effect particularly beneficial when under stress or hormonal changes.
Three countries stand out as fine chocolate producers, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy. The countries reputations are based on the way they roast and process the cocoa bean and the chocolatiers who make the confectionery. The rankings of countries and chocolatiers are of course subjective, with each expert giving a different opinion.
Cocoa growing in Australia was started by Cadbury as an experiment and has since been taken over by family farmers. Most of the growers are in the Mossman area north of Cairns in Far North Queensland on the edge of the Daintree Rainforests. They concentrate on single source beans from specific areas much like growing grape vines. The product is produced in specialised ways and is available from fine chocolate specialists and on line. Cocoa and chocolate producers online are: