What you’re eating
Dark chocolate is made from the roasted beans of the cacao tree, native to South America. Columbus ‘discovered’ these beans, and the returning crew of his fourth voyage took them to Europe. Originally cocoa was consumed as a beverage made by combining the ground beans with water. Chocolate was first seen in bar form in about 1910. It’s made mainly from cocoa solids and cocoa fat (aka cocoa butter) plus sugar. Milk chocolate also contains milk or milk powder. White chocolate (mostly sugar, milk powder and cocoa butter) lacks the cocoa solids that provide the health benefi ts of its darker cousins. Cocoa butter’s melting point is just below human body temperature – the reason chocolate melts so beautifully in your mouth.
Dark chocolate contains hefty amounts of disease-fighting flavonoids, anti-oxidants also found in red wine and lots of different fruit and vegetables. In fact, it appears to have more flavonoids than any other food. Studies find its anti-oxidants can significantly improve blood pressure, prevent blood clots, slow the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (making it less likely to stick to artery walls) and reduce inflammation. Some research suggests that eating a few squares a day can cut heart attack risk by 10 per cent. Eating dark chocolate can also lower insulin resistance, the main problem behind diabetes.
For the most anti-oxidants, look for dark chocolate that contains at least 60 per cent cocoa.
How much is enough: About one or two squares is considered one serving. You can have one to two serves every day unless you’re trying to lose weight.
Buying right: Buy from a shop with good turnover and look for clean, neat packaging – a sign the chocolate is fresh. Store chocolate in foil and plastic wrap. Chocolate may develop a light coating or ‘bloom’, but this won’t affect flavour or texture.
Clever ideas for dark chocolate
? Grate one square of dark chocolate into a coffee cup, then fi ll with hot coffee and steamed milk for a delicious mocha cappuccino.
? The easiest way to melt chocolate is in a microwave oven: put it in a heatproof bowl and stir very gently every now and then until melted. Avoid getting water in the bowl, as this will make the chocolate go hard and crumbly.
? Vanilla extract boosts the flavour of chocolate. You can add as much as 1 tablespoon to a recipe.