Chocolate

bars of chcolate

About

Chocolate, or theobroma cacao (the scientific name) literally translates as “food of the gods". Cocoa is made from the seed of the cacao tree flower. The seeds are frequently referred to as cocoa beans. In its purest form cocoa is a natural food. What happens to it once it is processed and formed into a product is another story.

A Brief History Of Chocolate

Chocolate was brought to Europe by the Spaniards, who learned its use from the Aztecs. It was introduced into England about 1657 and first manufactured in the United States near Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1765. Americans consume approximately 12 pounds of chocolate per capita per year.

The Cocoa Fruit

cocoa pod with beans exposedThis is a photograph of the cocoa tree fruit. Inside the thick green hull you can see the cocoa seeds or beans as they are referred to. Click the photo to see a larger view. The hand holding the fruit gives you an idea of the actual size of the fruit. photo worlwander.com

The image shown in the section below shows the cocoa beans once they have been sun dried.

Cocoa Bean Processing

"The processing of the cacao seeds is complex. The fruit is cured or fermented in a pulpy state for three to nine days, during which the heat kills the seeds and turns them brown. The enzymes activated by fermentation impart the substances that will give the beans their characteristic chocolate flavor later during roasting. The beans are then dried in the sun and cleaned in special machines before they are roasted to bring out the chocolate flavor. They are then shelled in a crushing machine and ground into chocolate. During the grinding, the fat melts, producing a sticky liquid called chocolate liquor, which is used to make chocolate candy or is filtered to remove the fat and then cooled and ground to produce cocoa powder." "Cocoa," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved

Another Health Food?

Cocoa has a high food value, containing as much as 20 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrate, and 40 percent fat. It is also mildly stimulating because of the presence of theobromine, an alkaloid that is closely related to caffeine.

Chocolate contains more antioxidant (cancer preventing enzymes) than does red wine. It is important to note that in order to be significantly beneficial the chocolate cocoa beansmust contain at least 70% cocoa solids. Much of the American chocolate bars contain high amounts of fat and sugar and additives. Look for chocolate made with cocoa butter rather than fats such as palm and coconut oil, which are much worse for your heart.

Additionally you need to watch your chocolate intake due to the amount of calories packed into one little bar. There are roughly 85 to 150 calories per ounce, depending on the specific brand you buy. Your best bet is to purchase a high quality dark chocolate bar. [The image above shows sun dried, unroasted cocoa beans.]

Addictive Maybe?

This is another case where one study says one thing and another study says something else. In an article by Dr. Andrew Wiel, "Recently, scientists discovered that the anandamides in chocolate and cocoa powder activate the same receptor in the brain as marijuana. The result is a sense of well-being or mild euphoria." However, in a subsequent study Dr. Vincenzo Di Marzo of the Istituto per la Chimica di Molecale di Interesse Biologico in Naples states that chocolate contains too little of the substance to produce marijuana-like effects. Both sides agree that chocolate may contain addictive compounds. Once again no one is certain what the compounds are and why they may affect us as they do.

Chocolate Cravings And Alcoholism

Researchers are investigating a link between the possible addictive qualities of chocolate to those found in alcohol. "NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Do you love chocolate? According to new research, chemicals in chocolate may explain why some people crave the tasty treats. What's more, these same compounds--called tetrahydro-beta-carbolines (THBCs)--have previously been investigated for a possible role in alcoholism." (Health Central)

On the other hand chocolate may be beneficial to fight cravings when you stop drinking. It is normal for a formally heavy-drinker to crave sweets upon withdrawal from alcohol.(Dr. Andrew Weil)

Favorite Chocolate Links

Featured Books

True History Of Chocolate

By far the best book about Chocolate available.  Sophie Coe takes you through the history of chocolate from development by the Aztecs to the factories of modern day.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.