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Eat Local! Chocolate

January 31, 2017

Inland NW Food NetworkWith Valentine’s Day just around the corner, many of us are probably thinking about getting that special someone a heart shaped box of chocolates. Did you know that chocolate offers many benefits other than just satisfying a sweet tooth or showing someone that you care? Dark chocolate in particular is known to provide a host of benefits to the body and can play a role in reducing the inflammation and oxidative damage that causes heart disease and stroke.

Chocolate is derived from the cocoa (or cacao) bean, which is actually the seed of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. This evergreen cocoa tree is native to Central and South America, and indigenous tribes in these regions have been using the cocoa bean in food and medicine for thousands of years. In fact, Theobroma is the Latin word for “food of the gods.” Europeans were first introduced to cocoa when Christopher Columbus, and later Hernando Cortez, laid their conquests in the New World in the 16th century, and the Aztecs shared chili spiced chocolate beverages with the Spanish explorers. Shortly thereafter, cocoa made its way to Spain and spread quickly to the rest of Europe.

Although North Idaho is a long way from South America, chocolate is ubiquitous in many cultures around the world. Cocoa beans themselves are used to make cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and, of course, the chocolate bars that we all know and love. All chocolate, however, is not created equal. Pure cocoa powder (produced from cocoa solids) is very low in calories, virtually flavorless and free of sugar, and bitter tasting. Pure dark chocolate is made from cocoa solids derived from the non-fatty portion of the cocoa bean, and sometimes small amounts of sugar are added to offset the bitterness. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contains both milk and cocoa solids as well as cocoa butter (the fatty portion of the cocoa bean). By the time the cocoa bean has become milk chocolate in a candy bar, it has lost many of its beneficial micronutrients. The darker the chocolate, the more nutrients it will pack.

Dark chocolate contains a variety of phytochemicals (plant compounds) that help fight inflammation and offer protection to our cells. Flavonoids, a type of phytochemical found in high amounts in dark chocolate, acts as an antioxidant and prevents oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol from depositing in our arteries. It can also boost HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which help to prevent heart disease. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits with flavonoid consumption comes from its ability to increase blood flow and prevent blood clotting, thus lowering blood pressure and reducing risk of stroke. Furthermore, dark chocolate is rich in potassium, manganese, and copper, which are needed for heart health and blood pressure regulation. Stearic acid, the most prominent type of saturated fat found in cocoa butter, is cholesterol neutral and does not appear to increase heart disease risk. To get the most benefit from chocolate, choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids. To boost antioxidant intake from dark chocolate, try adding a sprinkle of unsweetened cocoa powder to smoothies, oatmeal, and hot beverages like tea or lattes.

By Natalie Colla, RDN, LDN.

 

The following recipe was a featured post from the January 2014 issue of Food & Nutrition Magazine and developed by Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, LD. It is a simple, nutritious, and delicious recipe to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:

2 tsp. cocoa powder

1 ½ Tbs. maple syrup

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. lemon zest (about half a lemon)

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

1 pinch of salt

¼ cup chia seeds

1 ½ cups unsweetened vanilla almond or soymilk (divided)

¼ cup shredded coconut flakes

 

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients together, setting aside ½ cup almond/soymilk. Stir thoroughly with a small whisk.
  2. Place in the fridge for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  3. As the chia seeds absorb moisture, they will expand and create a pudding like texture. When the mixture is thickened, place it in a blender and pulse on high for 30 seconds until a smooth texture is achieved, adding additional ½ cup almond/soymilk as needed to blend thoroughly.
  4. Divide mousse evenly into four small bowls and let sit in the refrigerator for additional 30 minutes. Garnish with additional coconut flakes if desired. Serve cold.

*Note: By blending the pudding into a mousse before serving, it incorporates air for a fluffy texture.

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