Naturopath and Holistic Health Expert
Chocolate is akin to edible magic. Within this unassuming brown & rectangular treat live our dreams, our most whimsical imaginings & other feelings, quite intangible. It transports us to destinations as distant as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and as close as a childhood home. It’s potent, evocative and universally adored.
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In fact, iconic stories such as Willy Wonka and Chocolate inspired me in the creation of OVViO (my clinic & teahouse); capturing that sense of lush contentment, bespoke hand-blending & old-world apothecaries, a decadent aspiration.
We’ve made it our prerogative to stock divine, hand-made, artisan chocolate in-store at OVViO, thus I want to set the record straight regarding its health benefits & quirks. Read on, avid cocoa fans!
– The cocoa bean was first cultivated by the Olmecs in 1500 BC, the first major civilization of Mexico. Today, Africa produces more than half the world’s cocoa.
– 300 to 600 beans are processed to make 1kg of chocolate.
– How is it made? Beans are fermented, dried, cleaned and then roasted, with shell being removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground into ‘cocoa mass’ to create pure chocolate in its rough form. The cocoa mass is usually liquefied and called ‘chocolate liquor’. The liquor may also be processed into two components: cocoa powder and cocoa butter. These two are then combined with sugar or vanilla and sometimes milk to make chocolate.
– Sir Hans Sloane encountered cocoa while he was in Jamaica where the locals drank it mixed with water. He is reported to have found it nauseating & devised a means of mixing it with milk to make it more pleasant. When he returned to England, he brought his chocolate recipe with him. Initially, it was manufactured and sold by apothecaries as a medicine; though, by the nineteenth century, the Cadbury Brothers sold tins of Sloane’s drinking chocolate.
– Rodolphe Lindt invented ‘conching’ in 1879. This process consistently created a smooth bar of chocolate.
Health benefits (these apply to pure dark chocolate without milk solids, powders or soy lecithin – the higher percentage cocoa, the more therapeutic):
– Lowers blood pressure and protects the heart due to its high antioxidant capacity. This benefit may also be applied to any other diseases caused by free radical damage (such as macular degeneration and cancer).
– Boosts cognitive abilities.
– Is pleasurable, stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain that make us feel good and happy.
– Is rich in minerals – Cocoa powder contains several minerals including calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.
Dose: 1-2 squares of a high quality dark chocolate will impart the health benefits described – the limitation is the sugar content. It is best used as pure cocoa powder added into smoothies, hot milk or stewed fruit sweetened with vanilla, stevia and/or cinnamon.
Check list for buying the best chocolate:
1. Make sure the origins of beans are fair trade. If a company is not transparent about the source of its beans, be suspicious! ‘Blood beans’ borne of child labour & exploitation are a sad consequence of our collective sweet tooth. Check facts & suppliers here.
2. No artificial, genetically modified emulsifiers such as soy lecithin. Choose ones with cocoa butter instead.
3. Raw vs. cooked? Is raw necessarily better? Roasting beans requires heat, as per tradition, though this serves a worthwhile purpose! It removes the bitterness, mellows the flavour and removes bacteria. Some companies claim their chocolate is ‘raw’, but a better word would be ‘unroasted’ or simply sun/air dried.
4. No milk solids or powder. In my eBook I Am Food I talk about why this ingredient is problematic in greater detail, but in essence, it is highly processed, contains oxidized fats & cholesterol plus synthetic additives. Avoid!
5. Hand harvested, handmade & using vintage machines. Two brands, Bahen & Co and Dandelion Chocolate make lovingly prepared, from-scratch chocolate using only the finest ingredients & methods – we’ve chosen to stock them at OVViO.
6. Avoid all other additives such as ‘natural’ flavors, colours & preservatives (see page 45 of I Am Food guidebook).
Armed with the knowledge of how to select the finest quality chocolate, you can have your cocoa and eat it too! It’s all in the source & processing; choose only the best quality brands made with few ingredients and an abundance of love. Let a single square melt on the tongue and enter a world of warmth, innocence and magic.
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