Are you a real chocolate fan or a pretender to the chocolate throne?

person holding dried beans

I HAVE a loaded question for you. Where do you stand on the topic of chocolate? Do you eat it in any form you can get your hands on or do you find it to be vile stuff, sweet and sickly? Perhaps you’re a connoisseur, only choosing single origin, fair-trade, organic raw chocolate.

The fact is, much of what we call ‘chocolate’ really falls into the category of ‘candy’. The French even voted on this some years ago, given that the sugar and non-cocoa fats far outweighed the cocoa content in so many products that called themselves ‘chocolate’.

That we’ve developed a sweeter and sweeter palate for chocolate products is undeniable.
This is true of so many foods, even vegetables. Those that started out with an overtly pungent or intensely iron-like or bitter flavour were gradually bred to make for a much sweeter flavour. As a result, our tastebuds have become somewhat immune to levels of sweetness, while more sharp, pungent flavours can come as quite a shock. Yet it’s these very flavours that can deliver so many health benefits and be so restorative to the liver.

In the case of chocolate, what started several hundred years ago as a concoction of cocoa beans, herbs, chillies, and some honey, gradually morphed into a sweeter, more dairy-heavy product.

Little wonder then that the quality or percentage of cocoa has ceased to matter. It had become merely a carrier for sugar and fat.

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So if someone says they crave chocolate, it’s always worth asking what kind of chocolate. If it’s of the candy bar persuasion, it is more likely they are craving sugar and so really need to increase their B vitamins from nuts, seeds, organ meats, and beans. Ironically, the more sugar a B-vitamin deprived person consumes, the more deficient they become, as we burn through a lot of vitamins and minerals to process sugar.

Dark chocolate, on the other hand, especially raw chocolate, contains plenty of magnesium, some copper, and lots of polyphenols. These particular antioxidants are good for the arteries, as well as being anti-aging, boosting for the memory, and can in fact help to lower blood pressure.

The direct opposite can be said of processed candy, then. Cocoa powder, especially raw cacao powder or raw cacao nibs, are also very rich in iron, proving very useful for those prone to anaemia.

One of the benefits of using good quality raw chocolate or raw cacao nibs, as found in your local health food shop, is that they still contain all these nutrients, as they haven’t been processed out of them. They are also much more intense in flavour, so a little goes a long way.

You may find, if you’ve had a lifetime of dairy chocolate with lots of sugar in it, that it takes some time to adjust to the more complex, dark flavours. Malty, smoky, nutty, fruity, and earthy, the layers of flavour vary depending on the origin of the chocolate or cacao, as the bean has taken on the flavours based on the soil in which it grows.

If you are trying to wean yourself off processed chocolates, start by trying to choose higher and higher cocoa content percentage to gradually adjust your tastebuds. The mouth feel will be different too as you move away from dairy content. Rest assured though, chocolate still contains fats, which always delivers a satisfying mouth feel.

Only in the case of cocoa butter, or chocolate fat, the fats come in the form of stearic acid and palmitic acid. These fats have a really positive effect on cholesterol, mopping up free radicals which can otherwise lead to atherosclerosis.

Yes, these fats are saturated, but it would take another entire page to explain why saturated fats are not the enemy we have labelled them to be. They are a very stable type of fat, which actually play a very useful role in a balanced diet.

So see if you can incorporate real chocolate into your diet. Raw cacao or cacao nibs can be added to anything from muesli to marinades. It’s addition to chilli sauces or oven-roasted vegetables works very well too. Just don’t overcook it.

Yes, chocolate contains some caffeine and other stimulants like theobromine, so if you’d rather a stimulant-free diet, maybe chocolate and tea or coffee are not for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy the taste of chocolate and would also like to enjoy the health benefits it can deliver, sample a little of the dark stuff.

Choose the best quality you can. Make it raw, fair-trade, and organic wherever possible. And, of course, enjoy!