The Melting Truth

For many of us Chocolate isn't just a food, it's a way of life, but where does this addiction to the dark stuff come from?

For years there have been myths and ideas about why some of us may be addicted to chocolate (each of us in the UK consumes about 10kg a year – more than any other Europeans), the best I have heard being ‘it has the same fat content as breast milk, so if you were breast fed……’!

And more recently, there is lots of controversy about the health benefits of eating chocolate every day. It appears that once we find something we like we want to convince ourselves that it is doing us some good, rather than having to feel guilty about eating it.

There have been studies to show that the flavonoids in chocolate, in particular epicatechin, may promote cardiovascular health as a result of direct antioxidant effects, or through antithrombotic mechanisms. But it must be pointed out that this is plain, dark chocolate we are talking about – these positive effects are markedly reduced when chocolate is consumed with milk, or if milk is incorporated, as in milk chocolate. It appears that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants and negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.

Another study showed that a daily intake of dark chocolate may have favourably affected blood pressure in previously untreated elderly hypersensitive people. More studies are presently taking place, so watch this space.

Cacao is a very complex food, with more than 300 chemical compounds to be found in it, and is said to be significantly richer in antioxidants than green tea or red wine, and contains protein, calcium, iron plus other minerals required in a healthy diet.

Many of us are not bothered that most of what is on offer is sold by large multinational companies, and that it is highly processed and loaded with vegetable oil and sugar. But for others, quality and health are part of the pleasure. Hence the rise in organic, fair trade and higher cocoa varieties over the past few years, with chocolate tastings taking place of wine tastings.

And now we have the option of raw chocolate – the nib of the bean in its natural state, not heated (when the nutrients start to die) or mixed with lower grade ingredients such as fat and sugar. These nibs taste like a dark chocolate, but with a nutty texture – but certainly not sweet! But they are very rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps to relax nerves and muscles. So could that be why some of us turn to chocolate to calm us down?

Whatever the reason for eating it, chocolate is loved by many, and with the recent passion for rich, dark flavours, and ever more small producers setting up, I suspect this love is not going to die.

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