Hot or cold, bitter or sweet, crunchy or creamy, the universal allure of chocolate is undeniable. The cacao-obsession started with the Aztecs and Mayans who drank it hot for its revitalizing effects on the body. Today’s hot chocolate hardly resembles that pure, bitter drink, but when chosen well, chocolate still has many health-promoting qualities to offer.
To get the benefits of the cacao plant, you must choose a dark chocolate, unblemished by milk, extra sugars and excess processing that replace all the good-for-you things it started with. Dark chocolate can range from 60 – 99% cacao content – the higher percentage of cacao the less sweet it will be (and the more beneficial nutrients it will have.) Make sure the bar you choose is of good quality because many candy manufacturers claim a product to be dark chocolate when, in fact, it has many of the same ingredients in a generic milk chocolate bar (pass on the Hershey’s and go local with Seattle’s Theo Chocolate’s pure 70% dark chocolate bar).
Eating an ounce of dark chocolate for an afternoon pick-me up (always with some protein like almonds) or a palate cleansing dessert is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without all the unnecessary sugar or calories. Plus, you can feel good about the nutritional benefits that come with your indulgence:
- Antioxidants – Cacao beans are densely packed with many biologically active compounds that fight the damaging effects of free radicals in the body including flavanols, the same kind of antioxidants found in red grapes and green tea!
- Low-Glycemic Index – So you can enjoy your sweet treat without the blood sugar crash that leaves you and your body stressed, tired and cranky.
- Vital Minerals – As a plant-based food, chocolate contains quite a few of the essential nutrients we need to for complete nourishment: copper, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron!
- Good for your heart? Maybe. Recent studies have shown that chocolate and cocoa may promote heart health by improving blood flow, decreasing blood pressure and maintaining healthy arteries.
For a really nutrient-packed treat, try this easy recipe:
Seeded Dark Chocolate Bark
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas), shelled
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (at least 80% cacao)
- Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat; add pepitas. Toast, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin seeds first start to pop, about 1 minute. Pour seeds into a bowl.
- Toast hemp seeds in the same skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and just starting to turn a pale straw gold, about 45 seconds. Add to bowl with pepitas. Toast sesame seeds in the same skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 45 seconds. Add to bowl with other seeds. Add salt; toss to combine.
- Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 50% power for 1 minute. Stir; continue cooking in 30-second bursts, stirring after each, until chocolate is melted.
- Pour melted chocolate onto a parchment paper–lined baking sheet; smooth out into a thin even layer (it will not cover the entire sheet pan). Evenly sprinkle seed mixture over chocolate. Let stand at room temperature until set, 2 hours or more.
- Break into 8 pieces (chocolate may be soft, depending on brand used). Store airtight in refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, if desired, before eating.
Some of our favorites:
- Theo Chocolate’s Pure 70% Dark Chocolate Bar (available at many local stores, and online)
- TCHO Extra Dark 81% Bar
- TCHO 99% Dark Critters (Julie Starkel’s favorite) has ONLY cacao
- Endangered Species Chocolate Co’s 88% Extreme Dark Chocolate Bar (check out PCC markets or online)
- Taza Chocolate 85% Super Dark Mexican Chocolate
By Flannery, student intern
Recipe from http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2013/01/salted-seedy-chocolate-bark retrieved Feb. 15, 2013.