08 Feb 2024
The fruit behind chocolate: It’s easy to forget that chocolate comes from the Theobroma cacao tree. The yellow fruits are harvested from the trees and opened to remove the cocoa beans inside. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted, husked, and ground to form a pasty fluid chocolate liquor, which is the basis of all chocolate products.
First, a bitter drink: The cultivation of the cacao tree traces back over 3,000 years ago to the Maya, Toltec and Aztec civilisations. They crafted a bitter beverage from cocoa beans mixed with spices like chilli. This drink carried profound cultural and medicinal significance, employed in the treatment of various ailments and shared during marriage ceremonies.
From drink to bar: Like many other plants, cocoa beans were brought to Europe from South America around the 16th century by colonists and missionaries. The first exposure to the drink was not a favourable experience for the Spaniards – deemed too bitter. It became more widely available in the 17th century, but eating chocolate was not in regular production until the mid-19th century.
Cacao fruit juice? The flesh of the cacao fruit is also used in some countries to make a sweet and sour fruit juice.
What’s in the bean? Cocoa beans contain many nutrients and plant compounds, including:
Cocoa and its compounds have been linked to numerous health benefits.
How much? Studies used a variety of doses, so we still need to determine the amount needed to provide health benefits. Somewhere between 25 to 40 g of dark chocolate (70%+) seems recommended to get a standard dose of cocoa flavanols.
What about sugar? Cocoa-derived products come in a diverse range. We can’t group all chocolates as ‘health-promoting’ because many products are low in cocoa and high in added sugar and fat. These results align with chocolate high in cocoa solids.
3 qualities to look for
Just like wine and coffee, quality dark chocolate is a symphony of quality ingredients, expert craftsmanship, and unique flavours.
Experiment! If you’re not used to the stronger flavours, start with lower percentages and gradually increase. Try different products to find your favourite flavour profile – dark chocolate can be anything ranging from fruity to floral, not necessarily bitter!
Pair with complementary flavours like raspberries, cherries, kiwi, coconut or nut butter.
Take a moment to let it melt in your mouth: One of the reasons we love chocolate is for the textural change from solid to creamy as it melts on the tongue and releases a fatty film. Take your time to enjoy it – engage your senses, let it melt on your tongue and appreciate the intricate notes that dance across your palate!
Composition: Martin et al. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2021
Cardiovascular health: Ren et al. Heart. 2019
Cognitive function: Barrera-Reyes et al. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2020
Gut microbiota: Shin et al. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2022