For several decades, I’ve been interested in chocolate. Is it anything more than a delicious, but fattening treat? There are over 80 chemicals in chocolate that have been shown to be beneficial to man. There are also some negative ones. The beneficial ones include Minerals (particularly magnesium), vitamins (B6, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin), hormone-like chemicals (ferulic acid and phosphatidylcholine), stimulants (caffeine and theobromine), amino acids (threonine), pain relievers (nicotinamide), aspirin-like anti platelet compounds as well as several other chemicals that have antiseptic, antioxidant and anti parasite properties.
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree, a small evergreen that grows as high as 25 feet in the wild, but when cultivated, is only five feet for convenient hand picking. One inch long, reddish brown beans are imbedded in a white. pulp. The chocolate nuts were taken from this and by a simple fermenting process, such as burying them under leaves for several days, they were ready for use. In the New World, chocolate was consumed in a bitter, spicy drink called xocoatl, and was often flavored with vanilla and chili pepper.
Until the 16th century, no European had ever heard of the popular drink from the Central and South American peoples. It was after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs that chocolate was imported to Europe. The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657. In 1689, noted physician and collector Hans Sloane developed a milk chocolate drink in Jamaica which was initially used by apothecaries, but later sold to the Cadbury brothers in 1897. Chocolate in its solid form was invented in 1847. Joseph Fry & Son discovered a way to mix some of the cocoa butter back into the dutched chocolate, and added sugar, creating a paste that could be moulded. The result was the first modern chocolate bar.
One ounce of dark chocolate contains the same amount of antioxidants as a 5 ounce glass of red wine. Even the fat (cocoa butter), which was once thought to be bad, is now known to be mostly stearic acid, which is far better for our arteries than other saturated fats.
The smooth rich taste of chocolate has to do with palate pleasing physical property as well as with almost 300 aromas and flavors to tease the taste buds and tweak the brain. The dark chocolate has far less fat and more of the “good stuff’ than the light chocolate. White chocolate has none of this. I would advise reading the label to make sure there are no hydrogenated oils, excessive sugar and artificial flavors that are sometimes used in less expensive forms of chocolate. Hopefully, xylitol and/or stevia will be used as a sweetener.
Chocolate has been shown to be positive in human health. Panamanian Indians who consumed a cocoa-ladened drink (xocoatl) had one-third less incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The first epidemiological study that proved increased cocoa (chocolate) intake, improved the cardiovascular system with a decrease of all-cause mortality, took place in Holland. The Zutphen Elderly Study published several years ago in The Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that men who ate the most cocoa had a significant drop in blood pressure and a 50 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death.
In a more recent study of 44,489 people, those who ate one serving of chocolate per week had a 22% reduction in the likelihood of stroke. Another study found that people who ate 50 gms of chocolate a week were 46% less likely to die following a stroke.