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    Archive for the ‘cocoa butter’ Category

    The Ultimate Chocolate Shopping Guide

    Last year’s “ultimate olive oil guide” was so well received that I thought it deserved a bigger and better sequel.

    While everyone else this year will be talking about the Mayan calendar, we’ll be over in this corner talking about something the Mayans ever-so-intelligently loved, worshipped, and cherished like gold: chocolate.

    My view of chocolate is undoubtedly passionate, yet objective. I don’t think of it as a magical elixir or a  — groan — “super” food. It is, however, very healthful.

    Sadly, a lot of chocolate out there — and I’m talking all sorts of price ranges here — is harmful to your health, the environment, and the well-being of farmers.

    I guarantee that after reading this post, you’ll never shop for chocolate the same way again.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Chocolate With Benefits

    6a00d83451b19169e20115701502e1970b-500wiHow much truth is there in the idea that chocolate can be a health food?

    If it’s true, does that mean I am getting some health benefits from any chocolate product?

    — Alice Costello
    (Location Withheld)

    To answer this question, it is important to differentiate between cocoa and chocolate.

    Cocoa refers to the seed from the cacao fruit.  Chocolate, meanwhile, is a term that describes a product that, among other ingredients, contains cocoa.

    In the vast majority of cases, chocolate is composed of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and other additional ingredients (i.e., almonds) or flavorings (i.e, vanilla).

    Many articles on this topic inaccurately mention the health benefits of chocolate.  In reality, the focus should be on cocoa.

    Cocoa contains a variety of flavonoids — a type of antioxidant — that have been found to have a protective effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

    To get the most out of cocoa, buy pure unsweetened cocoa powder and include it in a recipe (such as this no-bake brownie bites recipe I posted back in February).

    Flavonoids are negatively affected by processing, which is why you get negligible amounts in popular milk chocolate products like M&Ms or Kit Kat bars.

    That said, some chocolate bars contain higher flavonoid levels than others.  Here are some guidelines to help you find them:

    • Look for “cocoa powder” on the ingredient list.  If you see “alkali-treated” or “Dutch processed” varieties of cocoa powder listed, you are looking at major flavonoid loss
    • Look for chocolate bars that are comprised of at least 75% cocoa
    • Ideally, look for chocolate bars that are milk-free (such as Endangered Species) or contain negligible amounts (such as Dagoba), since certain components in milk appear to limit the absorption of antioxidants from cacao.

    If you seek out cocoa flavonoids in chocolate bars rather than cocoa powder, be sure to keep an eye on calories.

    And, also, as wonderful as the flavonoids in cocoa are,  there are plenty of other foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds) that offer various other varieties that are just as beneficial.

    Remember, health is determined by the totality of your diet, not the inclusion of any one food.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cocoa Butter

    I recently went vegan.

    The other day I was reading chocolate bars’ ingredient labels and didn’t know if cocoa butter was an animal by-product or not.

    Can you help?

    — Laura Brenty
    Chicago, IL

    Sure!

    Cocoa butter is 100 percent vegan — it is a purely vegetable-based fat naturally found in cocoa beans.

    Vegan chocolate is very easy to come by — a lot of the big drugstores, like Walgreen’s, carry it!

    To make sure it is completely dairy-free, be on the lookout for milk solids and/or whey-based ingredients.

    By the way, one of my favorite brands of vegan chocolate — actually, one of my favorite brands of ALL chocolate — is Endangered Species (pictured alongside this post.)

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