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Chocolate: The Iconic Treat

There is perhaps no treat in the world more widely enjoyed than chocolate. Chocolate is produced from the seeds of a plant that scientists called Theobroma cacao, which literally means “the food of the gods.” These seeds are processed to produce cocoa. The quantity of cocoa in chocolate is an essential determinant of its flavour and health properties.

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    Mesoamerica: Humble Origins

    Cocoa was very important to pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures, with some archeological findings suggesting that it was being cultivated and consumed as early as the 2nd millennium BC. Consumed mostly as a beverage, cocoa was integrated into Mesoamerican religious and cultural practices, ranging from elaborate rituals to festive feasts. Evidence suggests that it became so central to these cultures that it was even exchanged as currency.

    Seed to Stomach: How it’s Made

    The seeds that are used to produce cocoa grow in pods, which are cut from the tree for harvest when they have ripened. The tropical environment in which the plant grows causes the large pods to ripen year-round. When harvested, the pods are split open to expose the yellow seeds and pulp it contains. Scooped out and left to dry for approximately a week, the yellow seeds turn brown. Once these are fermented, they are called “cocoa beans” and are ready to be shelled and ground into a liquid, which is then processed to produce chocolate.

    Dark Chocolate: Sweetness and Health

    Unlike milk chocolate and white chocolate, dark chocolate does not contain any milk products and tends to have a high proportion of cocoa. Most countries require that “dark chocolate” have a minimum proportion of cocoa, usually around 30 - 35%. Cocoa and its rich antioxidants are largely responsible for the health properties of dark chocolate. The greater the proportion of cocoa in the chocolate, the better it is for your health.

    Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

    Dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants. The benefits of these natural compounds are essential to understanding how dark chocolate contributes to a healthy diet. When consumed in moderate amounts (approximately 10 grams per day), dark chocolate has been shown to have a number of important health benefits [1,2,3,4].

    Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health

    Research shows that dark chocolate provides protective effects against the development of atherosclerosis, which is the thickening of the walls in your arteries [5,6,7,8]. By protecting against this negative health outcome, dark chocolate helps prevent the development of cardiovascular diseases like stroke and heart attack [6,7,8]. High levels of flavonoids and theobromine have been found to contribute to these and other cardiovascular health benefits provided by dark chocolate [6,7,8].

    Stress Reduction and Mood Elevation

    Numerous studies have linked the consumption of chocolate with an improved mood, reduced stress, and even slightly elevated cognitive abilities. Cocoa has high levels of beneficial compounds that are believed to contribute to positive mental health outcomes [9,10,11,12]. These include methylxanthines (ex. caffeine, theobromine, flavonoid) and flavanol compounds.  Individuals who are already feeling unhappy or depressed show the greatest improvement upon eating chocolate [12].

    Why Choose Dark Chocolate?

    In addition to its inherent health benefits, dark chocolate has a number of properties that distinguish it from milk and white chocolate. Here are a few of these positive qualities.

    Flavour. The flavours of dark chocolate is significantly more complicated and varied. Its relative high concentration of cocoa gives it a bitter flavour that includes a variety of nutty or fruity flavours, which come from the growing conditions of the cocoa. Neighboring plants, soil content, and weather conditions all contribute to the flavour of each bar, making each truly unique.

    Weight maintenance. Dark chocolate has been repeatedly shown to satisfy cravings with smaller amounts when compared to milk chocolate. Scientific explanations for how exactly dark chocolate has this effect vary, but this effect is consistently found in experiments [9,14,15].

    Simple ingredients. The extensive processing and additional milk products that go into producing milk chocolate and white chocolate results in a long list of ingredients, many of which are difficult to pronounce let alone understand. Our chocolate contains only three ingredients, each of which is organic. It is important to know what is going into your body: We’re trying to make that a little easier!

    References

    1. Buijsse B, Feskens EJ, Kok FJ, Kromhout D. Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Arch Intern Med 2006;166:411–7.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16505260
    2. Buijsse B, Weikert C, Drogan D, Bergmann M, Boeing H. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. Eur Heart J 2010;31:1616–23.  https://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/03/18/eurheartj.ehq068
    3. Larsson SC, Virtamo J, Wolk A. Chocolate consumption and risk of stroke: a prospective cohort of men and meta-analysis. Neurology 2012;79:1223–9.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22933736
    4. Janszky I, Mukamal KJ, Ljung R, Ahnve S, Ahlbom A, Hallqvist J. Chocolate consumption and mortality following a first acute myocardial infarction: the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program. J Intern Med 2009;266:248–57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19711504
    5. Grassi D, Desideri G, Necozione S, Lippi C, Casale R, Properzi G, Blumberg JB, Ferri C: Blood Pressure Is Reduced and Insulin Sensitivity Increased in Glucose-Intolerant Hypertensive Subjects after 15 Days of Consuming High-Polyphenol Dark Chocolates. The Journal of Nutrition. 138:1671-1676, 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18716168
    6. Rull G, Mohd-zain ZN, Shiel J, Lundberg MH, Collier DJ, Johston A, Warner TD, Corder R: Effects of high flavanol dark chocolate on cardiovascular function and platelet aggregation. Vasc. Pharm. 71:70-78, 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25869509
    7. Hermann F, Spieker LE, Ruschitzka F, Sudano I, Hermann M, Binggeli C, Luscher TF, Riesen W, Noll G, Corti R: Dark chocolate improves endothelial and platelet function. Heart 92:119-120, 2006 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1860996/
    8. Engler MB, Engler MM, Chen CY, Malloy MJ, Browne A, Chiu EY, Kwak HK, Milbury P, Paul SM, Blumberg J, Mietus-Snyder ML: Flavonoid-Rich Dark Chocolate Improves Endothelial Function and Increases Plasma Epicatechin Concentrations in Healthy Adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 23:197-204, 2004 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15190043
    9. Macht M, Mueller J: Immediate effects of chocolate on experimentally induced mood states. Appetite. 49:667-674, 2007 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17597253
    10. Macht M, Dettmer D: Everyday mood and emotions after eating a chocolate bar or an apple. Appetite. 46:332-336, 2006. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019566630600016X
    11. Mitchell ES, Slettenaar M, vd Meer N, et al. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort. J Psychopharmacol. 24:1505-1514, 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19942640
    12. Smit HJ, Gaffan EA, Rogers PJ: Methylxanthines are the psycho-pharmacologically active constituents of chocolate. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 176:412-419, 2004. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15549276
    13. Michener W, Rozin P: Pharmacological Versus Sensory Factors in the Satiation of Chocolate Craving. Physiology and Behaviour. 56: 419-422, 1994.
    14. Hetherington MM: Chocolate: from adoration to addiction. Food cravings and addiction. 295-319.

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