Ah, chocolate! So much delight from a tiny bean! Though considered by many “a guilty pleasure,” in moderation, dark chocolate provides a number of medicinal benefits, and an ounce a day is considered a worthwhile addition to a healthy diet.
Dark chocolate has 45 percent or more cacao solids, giving it a more intense flavor than milk or white chocolate. Use this intensity to your advantage. Hot cocoa made with dark chocolate is a warm, mineral-rich drink on a cold day. Dip fresh fruits such as strawberries, bananas, and oranges in dark chocolate, and use their natural sweetness to create a perfect flavor combination. Get creative with savory dishes, too—create a mole sauce spiced with chipotle to make pan-fried chicken really pop.
You’ll find dark chocolate throughout your favorite grocery: in the candy aisle, in the health food section, with baking supplies, and perhaps on an ethnic food display. Chocolate bars, nibs, squares, drops, and powdered mixes are plentiful and serve a variety of purposes.
For many people, dark chocolate is an acquired taste. The higher the level of cacao solids, the more pungent and perhaps even bitter this chocolate can taste, because it hasn’t been overly processed, and doesn’t contain the same amount of milk and sugar as more common chocolate candy. Many people who want a healthy boost of dark chocolate, but need to adjust to the taste, will often mix it with other foods, such as sautéed bananas, or in a hot beverage made with almond or coconut milk.
Dark chocolate is available in every grocery store. Some specialty stores may also carry more artisan dark chocolate bars, mixed with a variety of spices and other combinations.
Fortunately, dark chocolate doesn’t have a particular season, so it’s available throughout the US and Europe. However, depending on how the cacao is sourced, some of your favorite options may be reliant on the sustainability of certain products and may not be as abundantly available throughout the year in the United States and Europe.
Most of the time, chocolate products are wrapped. Unless there’s a visible expiration date, it’s hard to determine if the chocolate is fresh. One tip is to make sure there isn’t dust on the packaging—dust indicates the stock hasn’t been purchased or rotated recently, and that may be one indicator of freshness, or lack thereof.
Chocolate doesn’t necessarily “go bad,” but it can develop white spots or become grainy if improperly stored, and this impacts taste and texture.
The type of cocoa processing and the sustainability growing practices of the cacao beans are major concerns when it comes to dark chocolate products. Product quality matters, because lead and other toxic residues may be present in non-organically produced cocoa. Look for terms like organic cocoa, organic cocoa powder, and organic cocoa butter.
Dark chocolate can last six months to a year in the freezer when stored properly. To do this, tightly cover the chocolate in plastic wrap to avoid condensation, and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Once fully refrigerated, move wrapped chocolate to the freezer. When you are ready to enjoy your treat, reverse the process for optimal flavor and texture; move chocolate to the refrigerator for 24 hours and bring to room temperature before unwrapping and finally eating.
Dark chocolate can last three to six months in the refrigerator when stored properly. Tightly cover the chocolate in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Again, allow chilled chocolate to come to room temperature before unwrapping and eating. For a more temporary solution to preserving chocolate, especially during the summer months, store unwrapped chocolate bars in sealed plastic bags. To avoid condensation, be sure to release as much air from the bag as possible before storing. When condensation does build inside the bag, the chocolate may become grainy or develop white spots.
There are limitless ways to prepare dark chocolate. It’s available in bars, nibs, squares, drops, and powdered. If you’re a fan of nibbling on a square after dinner, that’s the easiest preparation of all. Most of the time, chocolate is easy to sliver, shave, melt, or grate to suit your purposes.
Try using dark chocolate to enhance other foods and dishes. Dark couverture, or quality dark chocolate, is used in commercial baking and candy-making, but is also a fun option to coat fresh fruits such as strawberries, mandarin oranges, bananas, and kiwis. Also consider dark chocolate to create champurrado, which is traditional Mexican hot chocolate, or you can make a spicy mole sauce for chicken or turkey.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
A mineral that plays a role in producing collagen and keeping the immune system in proper working order, copper is an essential nutrient needed by the body in small amounts. Copper may also fight against free radicals, helping to delay the aging process. Energy production is also one of the many benefits of this important mineral.
Iron is an essential trace mineral that transports oxygen in red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body, aiding energy and endurance.
Magnesium is responsible for promoting cardiovascular health, muscle contraction and relaxation, energy production, and proper bone formation. This essential nutrient may also be helpful in regulating healthy blood-sugar levels, decreasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
Zinc offers a host of health benefits, aiding the body’s sense of taste, vision, and smell, and also plays a role in blood clotting, thyroid and metabolism health, and insulin sensitivity. This abundant mineral is also helpful for promoting immune system health and skin repair.
Many nutritionists agree that one ounce of dark chocolate a day provides a variety of health benefits. Microbes in your digestive system use the properties of dark chocolate to generate anti-inflammatory compounds. Flavanols, a type of antioxidant, are plentiful in dark chocolate, and may help reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. Some studies indicate that, in addition to boosting your level of natural mood enhancers such as endorphins and serotonin, dark chocolate may also improve cognitive function.
Keep in mind that dark chocolate should be enjoyed in moderation to receive full benefits, and that milk and white chocolate do not enhance wellness the same way, because they contain fewer minerals and higher fat content.
- It takes about 400 cacao beans, also known as cocoa beans, to make one pound of chocolate.
- Cacao beans naturally have approximately 400 unique aromas and nearly 300 distinct flavors.
- Mayans placed a high value on chocolate, and used it in marriage and baptism rituals.