T Nation

Dark Chocolate - My Favorite Subject


#1

I didn’t need a reason to talk about chocolate, but I decided that I would share some of my findings on which of the dark chocolate items taste better and do the most for you.

First, a summary of the benefits of Dark Chocolate.

  1. It makes you feel good. Dark Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA),-- a compound that helps us feel good, and reduces depression; as it amplifies the actions of other key brain chemicals – serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. (PEA btw, is available as a powder supplement).

  2. Supposedly can improve memory loss. According to the study however, you would have to ingest about 7 big chocolate bars per day.

  3. Plant foods (cacao comes from a plant) is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants which are believed to help protect us at the cellular level.

  4. It helps to prevent heart disease & risk of stroke by lowering blood pressure. However, not all scientists agree with that statement. “Flavonoids in cocoa have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage.”

  5. It raises your good cholesterol. Cacao Cocoa butter contains oleic acid which is believed to help raise your HDL. But I wonder about the amount of cocoa butter in dark chocolate as it is supposed to give chocolate a “melt in your mouth” experience, which I find occurs more with milk chocolate.

  6. It improves vision. Since the flavonoids increase blood flow to the brain, it is believed that there is increased blood flow to the retina, which improves vision.

  7. It helps to prevent cancer. “Of the many flavonoids in chocolate, two in particular, epicatechin and quercetin, are believed to be responsible for the cancer-fighting properties.”

  8. And of great importance to me, Dark Chocolate is believed to increase Nitric Oxide. Here is a medical study that agrees: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22156352
    In summary, dark chocolate intake increased NO serum levels, and decreased systolic blood pressure.

Considering I love Dark Chocolate, any of these reasons are good enough for me!

Tomorrow I will begin posting about the different types and brands of dark chocolate I have purchased as well as comments on their different tastes.


#2

When you read about dark chocolate online, you will find that there are a few “guidelines” or suggestions you should follow in choosing a chocolate for health benefits.

After this, I will give examples of some bars I have bought and how they fare.

How to pick your dark chocolate

  1. “raw, unprocessed, unheated, all natural” chocolate is best.
  2. not “processed with alkali”
  3. nothing added (no sugar, no milk, no nuts, no extra cocoa butter)
  4. cacao percentage of more than 70%, although the higher the better.

Now I will break down some of these “guidelines” to see which are the most important and what they really mean.

  1. raw, unprocessed, unheated, all natural
    When you are talking about “raw” AND “unprocessed”, you will be looking at “cacao nibs” or “powdered cacao”. And btw, “cacao” becomes “cocoa” after it is “processed”. Cocoa butter is removed from cacao powder - and if you read in the previous post, it is believed that cocoa butter is a good nutrient. “Unheated” refers to cacao, because cocoa is the product after heating. “All natural” tends to be a little more confusing – usually referring to “kosher, organic, vegan and/or gluten free”.

In this form, you would want to add to smoothies, or other food, rather than eating on its own.

  1. not "processed with alkali"
    Not processed with alkali, is also referred to as “dutch process”, “alkalized”, “dutched” or “European style”. It is a process of preparing the chocolate by washing it with a potassium carbonate solution. This provides a more mellow flavor to the dark chocolate.

This process “removes some of the chemistry that is thought to be responsible for the cardiovascular health benefits of the food”. The study further clarifies that the level of flavanols are “reduced” in processed chocolate.

This does not mean the processed chocolate is not beneficial. It means that you would need to eat more of it to gain the same benefit of the flavanols.

[Consumer Lab did a study verifying the amount of flavanols in various chocolate bars. I am not a member so I can’t access the results. ]

3. nothing added (no sugar, no milk, no nuts, no extra cocoa butter)
Vanilla, vanilla beans, soy, and sugar are usually added to modify the flavor and texture. It becomes a marketing factor; “all natural with nothing added”. But it has no real affect on the average consumer. 100% cocoa bars will have no sugar added; all other bars will have some added sugar. Chocolate connoisseurs will disagree with me however.

The percentages of the cocoa in the bar actually tell you two things. One is the percentage of cocoa; The second thing is the percentage of sugar. If you have a 80% cocoa bar, it will be 20% sugar (as a general rule of thumb).

4. cacao percentage of more than 70%, although the higher the better.
This is probably the only statement everyone agrees on. The higher the cacao/cocoa percentage, the better the chocolate is for you.

You will find bars in all ranges from 70 to 100%. The taste of each is different, as well as the benefits each provides. The higher the number, the more bitter the chocolate is – as you make a transition from milk chocolate, you may want to start with lower numbers and then work you way to the 90-100%.

The chocolate industry is huge. There are other things that "chocolatiers’ pay attention to, but are way ahead of the average “eat chocolate for health benefits” person. For example, reading the package to make sure all the beans come from one place, as that makes it more tasty. Or some chocolate manufacturers use a different process where they knead the chocolate which affects its taste. Terms on the package also bother chocolatiers, whether it says “cacao beans” or “cacao solids”.


#3

I will post about my experiences with different brands shortly.

What still confuses me is the apparent interchangeability of the terms “cocoa” and “cacao”. I have trouble with understanding the percentages shown on the bars because different brands use different terms.

In the pictures I will post shortly, you will see how confusing it gets.

Here is what it is supposed to mean:

CACAO (unroasted)

COCOA (roasted)

I found this suggestion online … “Overall, the rule of thumb is if you’re more focused on nutrients and antioxidants, choose cacao; but if you want fewer calories and some antioxidants, choose cocoa powder or darker chocolate.”


#4

Before I get into my experiences, there is something else about chocolate that I want to mention.

CHOCOLATE HAS CAFFEINE. For 99% of you, that is a no brainer. But I never realized that the dark chocolate has so much caffeine in it … and that the HIGHER the cacao/cocoa percentage, the HIGHER the caffeine content.

1oz of high percentage dark chocolate has the same caffeine as approximately one can of coke.

If you monitor your caffeine intake as I do, this is something you must consider. I have a bad habit of consuming all the dark chocolate I eat at night … while watching tv.

That means, I am consuming caffeine in an amount equivalent to 2-3 cans of coke before I attempt to go to sleep. Probably not a smart move on my part.


#5

white chocolate FTW


#6

Isn’t chocolate


#7

I like a good 90% dark chocolate. I always feel like something with it but I’ve never been able to work in a good companion. Anything cold tends to make the chocolate quite hard… maybe dried fruit? Or room temperature orange (though I hate peeling oranges)


#8

I like to have a piece of lindts 90% chocolate while I drive to my BJJ afternoon session.

The little bit of caffeine gives me a bit of kick and helps me concentrate.

tweet


#9

Dark chocolate is a real chocolate made from cocoa beans unlike usual milk chocolate that consist of a lot of sugar. And i like it because of that
Guys, did you try dark chocolate cake?


#10

  1. Ghirardelli 72%
    Nice flavor, not too bitter. But not the highest percent of cocoa. At 72%, it is the minimum of what you should consume if you are eating for health benefits.

I bought this is the small individually wrapped squares. The company says “velvety chocolate of our Intense Dark Chocolate 72% cacao with hints of mocha, blackberry and dark cherry.”

I find Ghirardelli to be the most bitter overall and am moving away from it.

  1. Ghirardelli 100%
    I find all of the Ghirardelli chocolates to be BITTER. REALLY BITTER. In fact, I am hard pressed to tell the difference between 100 & 92. However, if I put them side by side, I can tell that the 92% is less bitter.

The 100% is about the bitterness of the nibs, which I talk about later. I don’t find it enjoyable.

  1. Ghirardelli 92%

Ghirardelli uses cacao and cocoa interchangeably in my opinion. I went to the company website to get clarification. Because cacao is unprocessed; and cocoa is roasted. And all Ghirardelli bars are ROASTED/PROCESSED.

From their site:
Cacao Content: Cacao content refers to the amount of the chocolate product that is made of the three cacao components (chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder).

[So stating “cacao content” means nothing more than “cocoa content”.]

Cocoa The term cocoa is used in different ways. When it appears on a chocolate label with a percentage, it denotes the total cocoa bean (cacao) content of the chocolate and the term is sometimes used interchangeably with chocolate liquor, cacao, cocoa beans or cocoa solids. Not to be confused with Cocoa Powder.

I mentioned earlier about a process that “kneads” the chocolate. Ghirardelli is one of the companies that does this – which is called “conching”. Also from their website:

Conching: Conching is the prolonged heating, mixing and scraping or grinding process done during the last stages of chocolate manufacture. Conching produces both a smooth texture by reducing the size of the particles and mixing them, and a smooth flavor by driving off unwanted harsh flavors and aromas.

According to the packages, they “ROAST” the cacao, then “REFINE”, then “CONCH”. They process the chocolate in multiple ways.

And according to the website, they use “beef” products as an emulsifier??

  1. Cacao Nibs
    Yes, these are raw, unheated, unprocessed nibs … made from crushed cacao beans. They are a crunchy superfood. They are as natural as you will get (with the exception of some cacao powders).

And they taste like crap. You are supposed to eat 1 tablespoon every day. The taste is a mixture of tree bark, bugs, and essence of chocolate. I was having difficulty making them go down.

Then I discovered that eating a banana at the same time made the nibs much more tolerable. On a different day, I discovered that taking a swig of my Boost/Ensure Max Protein shake at the same time also made it easier to swallow. Just for the record, they may be the best product for you, but they are the least enjoyable – and that is saying something compared to the bitterness of the 100% bars.

  1. Sam’s Choice 90%
    Yes, private labelled “sams” … as in Walmart. The bar allegedly uses beans from Switzerland which are roasted to create the flavor.

The taste of this bar for me is one of the better ones. It has more flavor, without the biting bitterness that some of them have.

I put Ghirardelli 100, 92 and Sams 90 side by side. Sams 90 wins by a landslide with a milder flavor which makes it more enjoyable to eat.

  1. Lindt 90%
    Everyone talks about Lindt - even on this thread already! I think Lindt has one of the best tastes of the group …

BUT Lindt chocolate is "DUTCH PROCESSED" … as I explained earlier, they “wash” the chocolate with an alkalized substance to modify its color and to reduce the bitterness. Which is probably why we all like it.

Only problem is that a substantial amount of the flavanols are lost due to the washing process. It is not bad for us, but we must eat more of it than others to get the same benefits.

You will see on the package that it discloses “cocoa powerder processed with alkali”.

  1. Unsweetened Bakers 100%
    THICK bar, as bitter as Ghirardelli 100, but in a thicker piece which makes it worse for me. I’m not sure I’ll eat the entire bar.

green%20blacks
Green and Blacks 85% Organic
Slightly less cocoa, at 85%, but a very nice, tasty bar. The chocolate is smooth. Sam’s is still on the top, since it is at 90%, but this bar came in a close second.


#11

Temperature of the chocolate:

“Keep in a cool dry place (do not refrigerate). Higher Temperatures can cause chocolate to bloom (lighten in color). This does not affect flavor or quality.”

This is from one of the websites. Once a bar has become hot or warm, and then cools again, there is a substantial change in color (it looks “white powdery”) – but not evenly throughout the bar.

However, I disagre with the statement that is does not affect flavor. I find that heated or warmed chocolate does affect flavor substantially.

Leave a bar in your car in the afternoon – then eat it. I did this unintentially and found I enjoyed the flavor more. So I decided to heat chocolate in the microwave till it was only slightly warm. And in my non-scientific study, my taste buds respond to the flavor differently. The warmer chocolate tastes better.

I also found that the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more resistant to heat … meaning it takes longer to warm. A lower percentage chocolate will melt to liquid long before a 100% chocolate gets warm.


#12

Neat thread Traveling-man.

A couple of tips, if you are in the US, there is a yearly food convention called Natural Foods Expo West. Look it up. If you can make it to the show, you will find every boutique, cutting edge chocolate company and they will be giving free samples of their products to help you find your chocolate match made in heaven.

There is also a Natural Foods Expo East but I suspect it isn’t as heavily represented by chocolate makers. Of course the East show will have big guys like Blommer and Ghirardeli but go to the West if you want to be sure to find the little guys who are making chocolate with unique strains from exotic locations.

Another great place to find high end chocolate is at your good ole Trader Joe’s.