Yet another health question that we all wish had a simple yes/no answer! The next question is – when you say chocolate what do you mean? Chocolate meant something completely different to me 10 years ago to what it means to me today…

Confused?

Let me explain.

Until I got really serious about my food and did a bit of research, the word chocolate would conjure up very specific images. My favorite chocolate bar, the silken sauce over my ice cream or the powder I used for my hot chocolate (or ate from the can if I’m being honest). The only variation I couldn’t instantly eat was the cocoa powder for baking.

Many of you know (as I do) that it was also a one-way ticket to acne breakouts, a few extra kilos on the hips and a headache. But then – there was all this hype about dark chocolate being healthier, certain types of chocolate helping with blood pressure regulation and being an antioxidant? How could it possibly be healthy and cause so much havoc in my body?

So What’s The Difference?

It turns out that there are different types of chocolate. They are differentiated by varying processing methods.

Type of Chocolate

You may have noticed the chocolate ingredient being listed as either cacao or cocoa. Back in the day I thought that was just a spelling error, but it turns out there is a bit – nay – big difference.

Cacao

Also known as: raw cocoa, raw cacao, superfood, vegan cocoa, true chocolate
Taste profile: strong, bitter, acidic
Appearance: dark brown, fine dust like powder
Variations: nibs/liquor, powder
Used in: baking, drinks, sauces, desserts, cooking
Processing: Other than the initial fermentation, drying and grounding process, very little is done
Nutrition Profilei: As the processing is very limited and done at a low heat or using friction only. The nutritional profile is mostly unharmed. Without getting into the technical stuff the beneficial components are:
Minerals – magnesium being the most notable and useful as a relaxant
Polyphenolic compounds – flavan-3-ols being the component responsible for the bitter flavor and for the potent antioxidant effects.
Healthy fats – oleic acid the same found in olive oil

Using good quality dark chocolate made with raw cacao has been shown to be beneficiali in the fight against cardiovascular disease, lowering cholesterol, insulin resistance and much more. But, before you decide it’s all good, let’s talk about cocoa.

Cocoa

Also known as: cocoa powder, coca, hot chocolate, chocolate
Taste profile: creamy, mild
Appearance: light to dark brown powder
Variations: powder
Used in: baking, drinks, sauces, desserts
Processing: It begins with the same processing is followed as cacao. Thereafter it is heated and most likely mixed with other components. NOTE: Most cocoa powders are also mixed with fillers, anti-caking agents, sweeteners, whey powders and various other additives.
Nutrition Profile: The nutritional profile starts out exactly the same as cacao. It gets diminished by additional processing, adding of ingredients and dilution.

So how much chocolate is in my chocolate?

It appears to be anything from zero, typically labeled as ‘flavored’ and synthetic based, all the way to 100%, which is usually found in specialized boutique shops. The only way of really knowing is making sure you read the label or contact the manufacturer. Alternatively, buy cacao or cocoa powder and make your own dishes. This is the ultimate level of controlling how much chocolate is in your chocolate.

Getting back to “When you say chocolate, what do you mean?”

Hopefully, you are a little less confused by that question now. Chocolate, like so many foodie words nowadays, is used very loosely. Cacao and cocoa are also used interchangeably by manufacturers, so it can get confusing. What I have come to understand is this (based upon my personal opinion):

  • Chocolate is an ingredient or flavor (not the enemy)
  • Chocolate can be used for good (as part of a healthy eating plan), or
  • Chocolate can be used for bad (loaded with fillers, additives and miscellaneous stuff)
  • Chocolate as it is presented to the masses is more sugar than chocolate
  • When I would say ‘I need a chocolate fix’, I actually needed a sugar fix. Now, I use chocolate as a key part of a healthy diet. A chocolate treat can either help build my health or send me on a sugar frenzy..
  • Both options can be made with raw cacao.

What’s going to stop you from using cacao

Okay, so maybe you are all fired up about using the healthier version of chocolate. There are a few things that may put you off though, so let’s deal with them quickly.

Raw Cacao is expensive

  • Maybe some of you can find a reasonably priced supplier, but here where I live it’s right up there with buying an island. As a result, I am very selective about when and how I use it. I make it count. It is going to be rich, decadent and as healthy as possible.

Raw Cacao is strong

  • This helps with the expensive thing. Raw cacao is potent and you don’t need as much as you would with regular cocoa.
  • If you are swopping out cacao for cocoa, try the full amount for the first try of the recipe. If you it’s too overpowering, reduce the amount by a teaspoon or two for the next attempt.
  • If this is a new ingredient you are trying, experimentation will be required.

Raw Cacao is bitter

  • Many of you are probably picturing a delicious cup of hot chocolate after the reference earlier, but beware. This requires using a neat version of the powder and you may be in for a little surprise. Remember those flavan-3-ols mentioned under the nutritional profile – they are strong and as healthy as they are, they are bitter. Again, you are introducing a new flavor and it takes time and adjustment. You cannot use it the same as common cocoa. Perhaps start with blending cocoa and cacao to begin with and then gradually changing the ratio.

Chocolate – Healthy or Not?

If you are looking at chocolate as an ingredient in the purest form you can get and afford – then the answer is an easy yes. What you add to it to get the end product that you will be eating or drinking is what determines its ultimate level of healthy or not.

Recipes Please!

Now all this talk about chocolate probably has you motivated to try out a few recipes? I am way ahead of you. Pop on over to: 5 Effortless Chocolatey Recipes For You To Try. I added one of my own favorites and reached out to my colleagues for some recipes. They are diverse and delicious, so be sure to check them out, and don’t forget to show us. We love to see your creations #nutrichologist

 

CAUTION

Something I did not mention earlier is the compound Theobromine. This is one of the compounds in chocolate that makes us humans so happy when we eat chocolate. The more diluted the cacao is the less of an effect it has on us. The problem arises when we think it’s a good idea to feed it to our pets. Depending on the strength it can have a mild to lethal effect on our pets. It’s known as chocolate poisoning and causes anything from mild diarrhea and nausea to seizures and death. Dogs are particularly vulnerable. To be safe, please do not feed chocolate to your pets.

 

REFERENCES

[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/
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