With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I’m thinking about chocolate. And I don’t mean Hershey’s Kisses! These days chocolate comes in exciting flavor combinations that make it an adventure. I’ve seen many of these gourmet versions in stores such as Whole Foods and upscale supermarkets. I’ve also had the opportunity to sample many unusual forms of chocolate at the Natural Products Expo, which takes place in Anaheim, CA each March.
By now, we all know that dark chocolate is truly FoodTrient-worthy. It’s loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and even some fiber. The flavor, texture and nuances of dark chocolate, like fine wine, are determined by where the beans are grown and how they’re processed.
A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:
- 11 grams of fiber.
- 67% of the RDA for iron.
- 58% of the RDA for magnesium.
- 89% of the RDA for copper.
- 98% of the RDA for manganese.
- It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
Dark chocolate has many other properties that are beneficial to your body and soul:
- A powerful source of antioxidants – It’s loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. When tested against other high-antioxidant fruits like blueberries and acai berries, one study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols.
- Lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow – The flavanols in dark chocolate encourage artery walls to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and reduces blood pressure.
- Raises good cholesterol (HDL) and protects bad cholesterol (LDL) against oxidation – Oxidized LDL means that it has reacted with free radicals, making the LDL particle damaging to tissues, such as the lining of arteries and the heart. Besides helping to protect against heart disease, dark chocolate can reduce resistance to insulin, a factor in developing diabetes.
- Sharpens the mind – A Harvard study of older adults revealed that those with hypertension and compromised blood flow to the brain improved cognition when they drank two cups of cocoa per day for 30 days. 89% had improved blood flow during tests for memory and thinking skills. Cocoa also contains caffeine, which can boost brain activity short term.
- Stress control – According to a Swiss study, an ounce a day of dark chocolate may suppress stress hormones secreted by the adrenal glands and minimize the effects of cortisol on the body. So keep some dark chocolate on hand for every day emergencies.
- Weight loss aid – Dark chocolate is more filling and satisfying that white or milk chocolate. It can lessen cravings for other sweet, salty or fatty foods. A little bit of dark chocolate can help you stick to a healthy eating plan and keep you from feeling deprived.
Here are some chocolate companies that are doing some really interesting things with everyone’s favorite flavor.
Chocxo is a company in Orange County that uses top-quality cacao beans from Central and South American growers and roasts and processes them in their own facility here in Southern California. From the chocolate liquor they create bars made from single origin beans from farms in Ecuador and Venezuela. ‘Single origin’ means the cacao beans are grown within a single known geographic origin. Sometimes this is a single farm. The chocolate bars range from 68%-80% cacao (the only other ingredient in the dark chocolate is cane sugar) and, like fine wine, are described as ‘fruity’, ‘balanced’ and ‘floral.’ Compare several bars together—that’s what I call a tasting!
Endangered Species Chocolate company’s milk and dark chocolate bars and bites are made with ethically traded, shade grown cacao and natural ingredients. Each 3oz. bar wrapper explains about endangered species and 10% of the company’s net profits are donated to support conservation efforts. Enjoy for a cause!
Askinosie Chocolate, based in the Ozark Mountains, is another artisan chocolate company that offers ‘single source’ chocolate with beans from the Philippines, Ecuador, Tanzania and Honduras. Their mission is to craft exceptional chocolate while, “Serving farmers, our customers, our neighborhood, and one another, striving in all we do to leave whatever part of the world we touch better for the encounter.” They make chocolate bars flavored with gingerbread, pistachio, ancho chile, coconut plus other traditional combinations. They even make goat’s milk chocolate!
When I want to give a special gift, I go to Compartés Chocolatier. These ultra gourmet chocolates are hand-made from scratch every day by a small team of chocolate artists, using fresh natural ingredients from local farmers’ markets, in their Los Angeles chocolate kitchen and shops. I don’t know how they do it, but these chocolate truffles have colorful designs and come in unique flavors such as honey rum, tequila lime, smoked salt caramel, balsamic and pear cardamom.
For a do-it-yourself chocolate treat try these Brownie Bites. Look for more delicious chocolate recipes in my new cookbook, The Age Beautifully Cookbook, which just won the national award for innovation from the Gourmand International Cookbook Awards.
You won’t believe these brownie bites are completely raw and fruit-based! Dates blended with walnuts and cocoa powder create a rich, chocolate morsel perfect for a special treat, party or holiday.
Yields approximately 24 one-inch pieces
2 cups Medjool dates, pits removed
2 cups raw walnut pieces
¾ cup pure cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt, finely ground
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Place pitted dates, walnuts, cocoa powder and salt in a food processor and pulse until moist, crumb-like dough has formed. Add water in small amounts until mixture sticks together easily, one Tablespoon at a time scraping down sides as needed. Pour coconut flakes into a shallow bowl and roll small 1 inch balls of brownie dough until they are covered with coconut. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes and serve cold.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.