September 14, 2006

Chocolate: How Sweet It Is

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You are looking for something. Something sweet and delicious. It isn’t that you are so hungry and it isn’t a mealtime. You want something sugary to provide a boost of energy, but also something that you can be proud of eating for its health benefits. You need a little something to give your mouth some entertainment. You are looking for chocolate.
Chocolate milk, chocolate croissants, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate covered strawberries, hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, and the list goes on. It seems that chocolate can be added to an innumerable number of things, and it makes them all a bit better. The question then becomes: what makes chocolate so special?
Literally for hundreds upon hundreds of years, man has been enjoying chocolate. First discovered by the Maya between 250 A.D. and 900 A.D., chocolate was first prepared as a thick and bitter beverage of cacao mixed with other natural ingredients. The Maya drank chocolate during special ceremonies and also used the mixture as an offering to the gods. Not until the sixteenth century did cacao beans first come to Europe on the ships of Spanish explorers. Almost immediately after it arrived, sugar and milk were added to the cacao beans to suite the European craving for something sweet. Sweetened chocolate quickly became a favorite food throughout Europe.
Indeed, chocolate is a popular food with a long history. But could it additionally offer health benefits to those who enjoy its sweet taste? Yes! Modern scientists have discovered that (certain) chocolate (in moderation) can function as a healthy treat. How? First, varying amounts of calcium, protein, iron and fiber are found in all sorts of chocolate. Nine of Hershey’s milk chocolate kisses have nearly a third as much calcium as does one cup of skim milk. Not too shabby. Also, and perhaps more important, certain chocolates have lots of antioxidants. (Antioxidants help both protect our bodies from harmful substances and maintain healthy cells and tissues.) Though research on antioxidants is still very much in the making, consuming foods high in antioxidants is recommended for a healthy diet.
Not all chocolate is created equal. The two most popular sorts of chocolate are milk chocolate and dark chocolate (either semisweet or bittersweet). Milk chocolate is the sweeter and creamier of the two and loaded with milk and sugar. By FDA standards, milk chocolate requires a minimum of only ten percent chocolate liquor. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is required to contain at least thirty-five percent chocolate liquor. The higher the percentage of chocolate, the less sweet the chocolate becomes.
With regard to taste, preference is an utterly personal question. With regard to health however, the answer is more clear. Overall, dark chocolate boasts far more health benefits than does milk chocolate. Generally lower in fat and calories and with a twice as many antioxidants as milk chocolate, dark chocolate is, in terms of health, superior to milk chocolate.
Another positive feature of chocolate: certain sorts of chocolate contain considerable quantities of caffeine. The lovely alkaloid found is high quantities in such stimulating drinks as coffee and tea, caffeine excites the central nervous system and as a result, keeps us awake and alert. While nine of Hershey’s milk chocolate kisses have only 9 milligrams of caffeine, while a 1.45 ounce bar of Hershey’s special dark chocolate contains 31 milligrams of what we’re after. (To provide a comparison, depending on the type of coffee, one cup will contain between sixty and one hundred and thirty milligrams of caffeine.) Perhaps a bar of chocolate is the key to a late evening in the library.
What a lovely food chocolate is. For hundreds of years and in hundreds of ways, chocolate has been loved. Delicious, potentially beneficial for your health and a source of energy, chocolate is a total smash. Indulge and feel good about eating your chocolate of choice.
How to best enjoy chocolate? One option, a suggestion from me to you: prepare a pot of chocolate fondu. To bring you one step closer to this lovely experience, where choosing between dipping a strawberry and a kiwi into a pot of melted chocolate will be your greatest worry, a favorite recipe:
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 ounces German sweet chocolate
3/4 cup condensed milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch
Melt together all ingredients on a double boiler and stir thoroughly. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a fondu pot and serve with slices of banana and kiwi, strawberries, pound cake, and marshmallows for dipping. Enjoy!