Loco for coco

August 16, 2022

It’s winter, unofficially the season for indulging in comfort food; and what is more comforting than chocolate? Let’s delve into some details about this delicious treat, before tucking into a few recipes.

For a long time, questions have lingered about the health benefits associated with chocolate. Technically, cocoa beans, which chocolate is derived from, contain antioxidants called flavonoids, as well as vitamin E, vitamins B1,2 and 3 and minerals such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus and zinc. All of these nutrients contribute to the healthy functioning of the body, however, it is specifically the flavonoids that are touted for their health benefits, as they help to fight oxidation and the subsequent production of free radicals in the body.

They have also been linked to mild effects in lowering blood pressure levels, reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and possibly optimising blood flow. But before we start chiming that a block of chocolate a day would keep the doctor away, keep in, mind that the correct amount of chocolate, cocoa or flavonoids needed to effect health benefits has yet to be confirmed and the more processed cocoa is (for example by processing cocoa beans to chocolate), the less flavonoids are present in the final product. Furthermore, flavonoids are not unique to cocoa beans – berries, red cabbage, kale, and beetroot are all sources of flavonoids as well.

Chocolate can generally be divided into three types: dark, milk and white chocolate:

  • Dark chocolate is created when fat and sugar is added to cocoa, therefore it contains little to no milk. Dark chocolate should ideally contain at least 70% cocoa, however, the name “dark chocolate” is not patented or regulated by the FDA, so it is important to read the food label and confirm that cocoa ingredients such as cacao, chocolate liquor, cocoa powder and/or nibs and/or butter are some of the first ingredients listed
  • White chocolate is not officially classified as chocolate, because it contains only cocoa butter and sugar, but no cocoa solids. It typically contains more sugar, emulsifiers and vanilla than dark chocolate, but since the flavonoids are mainly derived from the cocoa solids, white chocolate does not offer the same “health benefits” as dark chocolate does

Keep in mind however that although dark chocolate has more flavonoids, that is not an automatic indication of the ratio of cocoa butter to cocoa solids. Cocoa butter is a fat and, while it is made up of equal amounts oleic (monounsaturated fat) and stearic & palmitic (saturated fat) acids, any type of fat is still the most calorie-dense macronutrient. Therefore, chocolates with a higher cacao butter (de facto fat) content, can still result in your body producing more fat cells, which ultimately affects heart health negatively, even if it is derived from dark chocolate

A few interesting facts about Chocolate:

  • Despite chocolate being derived from cocoa beans, the plant is actually a fruit tree
  • The word chocolate is derived from an ancient Aztec word (used by Olmecs and Mayans) describing a bitter drink that consists of cocoa beans and water. Typically, the beans would be dried, ground, and mixed with water to create a “chocolate” drink. It was, understandably, very bitter and could be mixed with chilies or even fermented
  • Early Mesoamericans used cocoa beans as a currency, and Spanish royalty gave cakes of cocoa as part of their dowries
  • Cote d’Ivoire is the largest producer of cocoa worldwide, but Europe accounts for the majority of the world’s chocolate intake
  • It takes about 400 cocoa beans to make 500g of chocolate (6¼ Cadbury slabs)
  • Sparkling wines are too acidic to pair well with milk or dark chocolate. Sweet sparkling wine pairs best with white chocolate and red wine with dark chocolate
  • Aerated chocolate has similar amounts of energy, fat and sugar, per 100g, as other chocolates. While the aeration makes the bar less dense, allowing you to consume less fat and sugar in a small portion, these products are often sold in slightly bigger bars, or we tend to eat more of it, because we feel that they are healthier, which obliterates the health benefits
  • Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine: this is usually not enough to effect a caffeine kick, but those who have gastric or colon issues should beware, as the caffeine is enough to cause discomfort in these conditions
  • People living with diabetes can consume regular chocolate as long as portions are small: diabetic chocolates tend to have higher fat and energy contents (which is particularly unhelpful to those with non-insulin dependent diabetes). Therefore, rather eat good quality dark chocolate in small amounts, as part of a healthy diet

Various ways to satisfy your chocolate cravings

  1. Eat a small piece of dark chocolate (30g)
  2. Make chocolate hummus: unsweetened cocoa powder blended with chickpeas and nut butter, blended to the desired consistency and served as a dip for fresh fruit
  3. Homemade trail mix: combine a variety of unprocessed seeds and nuts, a little dried fruit and dark chocolate chips
  4. Drizzle it: melt some dark chocolate and drizzle over oats, yogurt, fresh fruit, popcorn or pretzels
  5. Drink it: the healthiest hot chocolate is made with unsweetened cocoa powder; add artificial sweetener if need and enhance the flavour with a pinch of salt and vanilla extract

Chocolate Recipes – only slightly healthier

Fudgy Coconut Brownies

Makes 18 small brownies

Ingredients:
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup desiccated coconut


Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
2. Spray an 8X8 inch baking pan with oil or line with baking paper
3. In a large bowl, beat together butter, oil and sugar until fully incorporated
4. Beat in eggs and vanilla into the wet ingredients
5. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder and salt
6. Fold dry ingredients into wet mixture until fully combined, then fold in coconut
7. Pour into the baking dish, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake for 20-22 minutes until set. Remove from oven and cool.

The Best Hot Chocolate Float Recipe

Makes 2

Ingredients:
2 cups milk
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips/chunks
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 scoops of vanilla ice cream

Instructions:
1. In a small pot, whisk together milk, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt on medium heat until very hot and thoroughly combined
2. Divide hot chocolate between two glasses and top with a scoop of ice cream

Chocolate Energy Balls

Makes 20 balls

Ingredients:
½ cup raw almonds
20 Medjool dates (pitted)
½ tsp vanilla extract
⅓ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (plus ½ cup more for rolling)
⅓ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp coarse sea salt


Instructions:

1. Break almonds up in a food processor (by pulsing it), then let it run for a few minutes to grind into a fine powder
2. Add the dates and vanilla to the almond powder and again pulse to break the dates up, then let the processor run for 30 seconds
3. Add coconut, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse until well combined. The mixture should be slightly crumbly but keep together easily when you press it together with your hands (if the mixture is too crumbly, add a small amount of water and pulse to combine. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more coconut)
4. Spread the remaining ½ cup coconut onto a plate, then scoop tablespoons of the date mixture into your hand and roll them into smooth balls. Roll the balls in the coconut, then place on a plate or sheet of parchment
5. Refrigerate for a couple of hours until firm

All things considered, chocolate is delicious, whether sprinkled / drizzled / flavoured or eaten as is and given its storied history, there should be no reason why it needs to be avoided completely. However, as with all good things, it is best enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. So in the words of the immortal Charles M Schultz, “all you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”

Yours in Wellness,
Tirsa and the Empact Team

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