Chocolate Contains History, Health Benefits

by Alex Cheser

OK, so I know what I said about no refined sugars a few weeks ago, but I felt like I’d be wasting an opportunity to research what’s arguably the most popular food this week — chocolate. After all, during the week surrounding Valentine’s Day consumers will purchase more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy, according to a Nielsen estimate. That might be a bit much, but chocolate eaten in small amounts is actually not that bad for you. Plus, it’s delicious.

Chocolate has been consumed in some fashion for thousands of years. Native to tropical areas, it was first prepared as a bitter hot beverage in Central America and Mexico by combining the crushed seeds with spices and other seasonings. It’s even debated that the origin of our word for chocolate is derived from the Aztec word “xocolātl,” meaning “bitter water.”

The reason the drink was bitter is due to the fact that the cacao tree’s seed pods are extremely bitter themselves. Cacao pods have to go through several processes before they can be used to make the chocolate we consume nowadays.

According to All Chocolate’s website, the seeds have to be fermented for two to eight days for the chemical makeup of the cacao to change via various flavor-producing enzymes and the conversion of sugars into acids. Next, the beans are dried for several days to lose almost all of their liquid. The pods are then shelled and roasted to produce cocoa nibs, the fleshy part of the seed used to make chocolate. The nibs are ground to a cocoa mass or liquefied to cocoa liquor, which is then ready to use to make chocolate.

There are many types of chocolate and the health factor for each one varies. At the broadest sense, there is dark, milk and white chocolate. All three contain some ratio of sugar and cocoa butter, the oil of the cocoa nibs. Dark and milk chocolate also contain chocolate liquor. The addition of powdered milk makes the milk chocolate distinct.

Dark chocolate is regarded as the healthiest option, although milk chocolate is by far the favorite in America. The primary health benefits associated with chocolate is decreased blood pressure, but no conclusion has been made on its anti-cancer or stimulant properties.

However, chocolate is a very rich energy source. Info Barrel’s website cites that one chocolate chip contains enough energy for a human adult to walk 150 feet.
Today, chocolate provides a universal pleasure in Western culture. Americans consume about half of the world’s supply of chocolate, but that only translates to roughly 10-12 pounds per person annually, according to The Swiss have the highest chocolate consumption rate, with over 20 pounds of chocolate per person annually. Still, Food Reference’s website lists chocolate as America’s preferred candy 2-to-1 over all other candies.

Some other interesting chocolate facts: Roughly 70 percent of chocolate comes from West Africa, percent of the world’s almonds and 20 percent of the world’s peanuts are used in chocolate products, and the chocolate bar as we know it today grew out of the U.S. military’s request for a portable, energy-filled snack for soldiers.

So while chocolate is delicious and potentially healthy, you must keep in mind that all good things come in moderation. Most chocolate is still very high in milk, fat and sugar content. That won’t stop me from making a few noms this week, though.


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