I was probably in college when I was introduced to dark chocolates. Being a hater of over-the-top sweetness, I liked the bitter taste. Initially, I enjoyed it for good taste. However, since the introduction of the idea of Googling questions, especially the benefits of each product that we eat, I was elated that eating dark chocolate has several benefits.
Now, I make sure that my refrigerator has a bar or two of dark chocolates smiling at me, each time when I open it. I introduced a milder version of dark chocolate to my tiny tot and even she liked it. Thankfully, she is not like her father. He hates darker version. In fact, he likes white chocolate. No, I am not here to divulge the eating habits of my family. We are now moving on to something quite interesting – how to buy dark chocolates. It requires a conscious effort – you cannot just step into a store and pick anything that is labeled as ‘dark chocolate’.
What Exactly is Dark Chocolate?
Not any chocolate is fair skinned, right! Then, why are we biased towards dark chocolate. It is just a shade darker than the rest. If you think the same, then you are wrong here. Darker chocolates are not just dark complexioned, their composition also is different. The amount of sugar in dark chocolates is lesser as compared to the regular ones. Further, dark chocolates do not have milk solids like other chocolates. To prepare dark chocolates, fat is added to cocoa along with sugar.
What are the Uses?
Duh…uh! Eating! However, apart from enjoying as it is, you can also use dark chocolates in preparing baked goods and confectionary. Dark chocolates are also known as bittersweet chocolates or semisweet ones. They are different versions of dark chocolates. The sugar content differs in them.
How to Select a Dark Chocolate?
Just like buying coffee and tea, buying dark chocolates is an art. If possible, I would definitely like to indulge in ‘dark chocolate tasting’ before buying one.
Reading Labels – Do make a point of reading the label of the dark chocolate – whether it is sweet, semi-sweet or bittersweet. Read the ingredients too to assure the contents, especially the amount of sugar. Many ingredients in the list might enhance the flavor of your dark chocolate but it might even spoil it. So, reading labels is necessary.
Cocoa Content – A dark chocolate is one that has 70 percent or more cocoa content. If that’s not there, then it might not give you a genuine flavor. Your dark chocolate might have different forms of cocoa listed – cocoa powder, nibs or even butter.
Liquor Content – Many brands of dark chocolate have liquor as one of the ingredients.
Less is More – when it comes to dark chocolates, less is always more. The chocolate with fewer ingredients will taste better.
Difference Between Cocoa and Cacao
Like me, you thought that cocoa and cacao are the same, then you are wrong. No, the main difference between them is not the spelling – American and UK version. The main difference is their nature. Cacao refers to the products that are derived from the cacao beans. Cocoa powder refers to the processed cacao wherein cacao beans are roasted. Apparently, roasting them decreases their nutritional value and hence, cocoa is not as healthy as cacao. Unlike cocoa powder, raw cacao powder is derived from the cold-pressing method. This method does not strip away the nutrients out of unroasted cocoa beans as the living enzymes stay intact.
Ingredients to Look For in Dark Chocolate
Now, lets’ check what are the right ingredients to check when you look for the right dark chocolate.
And not cocoa is to be looked for while selecting a good dark chocolate. If you are fond of dark chocolates, then look for the amount of cacao it has. The higher is the amount of cacao in the dark chocolate, the more powerful is the flavor of chocolate in it. Generally, premium dark chocolates have a good amount of cacao – the mix of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. If the dark chocolate that you selected has more cacao, then inevitably the percentage of sugar gets reduced. This boils down to the fact that your selected variety will be the best.
Ah! Sugar. Amount of sugar determines the taste of your dark chocolate just as cacao does. There should be a balance in the amount present in the selected dark chocolate. If the sugar is more, the chocolate will not be termed as the dark one. However, if the sugar is not present at all, then you will miss that slightly bittersweet taste. While reading labels on the dark chocolate make sure that sugar is not the primary ingredient or the first ingredient mentioned in the list. The first ingredient usually forms the major constituent. For a rich experience of dark chocolate, if possible, choose one that has mentioned sugar as the last ingredient.
Have you ever wondered where do the beans of your dark chocolate come from? You need to pay attention to that, as the source of beans is quite essential for a better experience. There are so many varieties of beans grown. And every variety delivers a different flavor. The best variety of beans is Criollo beans. They have an intense flavor that is deep and its aroma lingers on for quite some time. Other types of beans are forastero and trinitario. Forastero beans are quite common as they are cultivated widely and most of the dark chocolates will be prepared out of them.
No, there should not be any milk present in your dark chocolate. If milk is mentioned as one of the ingredients, then probably your dark chocolate is not a genuine variety. High-quality or premium dark chocolates do not have milk. Yes, there might be some amount of milk fats present but not milk. Milk fat refers to the butter which does not have any moisture or non-fat solids present. Milk fats are added to give dark chocolates a soft taste and a smooth flavor. However, milk fat is not a compulsory ingredient.
If the selected variety of dark chocolate has vegetable oils present in it, then you should not select it at all. While looking for a healthy dark chocolate, do not choose the one with vegetable oils as it mars down not only the taste but also the health factor. It is also cheap and hence, such dark chocolates will be low on cost as well.
Just like milk, lecithin is an optional ingredient. Some brands do add it to the dark chocolates. The purpose of lecithin is to keep cocoa and cocoa butter from separating. A soy product, lecithin could pose problems to people who suffer from soy allergies. Hence, while selecting a dark chocolate, steer clear away from those that have lecithin as one of the listed ingredients.
Trans fat or hydrogenated oils are added to dark chocolate to bring down the cost of manufacturing. They are added as a replacement of cocoa butter. However, dark chocolates with trans fat as one of the ingredients do not deliver a good flavor. In addition, such dark chocolates are also not good for health.
If you gorge on dark chocolates because they are high in antioxidants, then you need to pay heed that there is no alkalization process done on them. While reading the labels, if you find that the cocoa is processed with alkali, then please do not select such dark chocolates. The process destroys the presence of antioxidants present in dark chocolate. It is often used to change the color of the dark chocolate and to reduce the bitter flavor. So, make sure that there is no alkali processing on the dark chocolate.
Organic and Minimum Processing
Yep, even chocolates are organic. While choosing dark chocolates, make sure that they are organic or fair-trade varieties. The beans selected for preparing them are organic and hence, free of chemicals. Also, make sure that there is minimal processing done while preparing such dark chocolates. The more the processing, the lesser is the amount of antioxidants and flavonoids present.
If your dark chocolate is inexpensive, you definitely need to read the labels. Inexpensive dark chocolates have less of cocoa and more of cheaper substitutes to bring down the cost. Further, such dark chocolates are also highly processed which strips down the antioxidants present in them. Hence, if you are looking for healthy chocolates, always go for the premium dark chocolates.
Above All, Melt-in-Mouth
If you are asked to taste a dark chocolate, close your eyes and let it linger on your tongue. If it melts into your mouth, then it is a good one. Dark chocolates should have a creamy texture that is smooth when kept on the tongue. Obviously, if you have selected a dark chocolate with nuts, it won’t give you a genuine melt-in-mouth experience. This is just for those varieties that are simply pure dark chocolates with nothing added to them.
Benefits of Relishing Dark Chocolate
So, it is not just taste of dark chocolate that attracts you towards it. In fact, the main reason you eat dark chocolate is the benefit that you get out of it – you have noticed a difference in your skin, weight and even your heart. Am I right?
Let Your Heart Stay Healthy
While you reach for that last piece of dark chocolate with guilt in your eyes, let me tell you a secret. This chocolate is actually good for your heart. Eating some dark chocolate twice a week can actually help in lowering blood pressure. It improves the flow of blood and even prevents in the formation of blood clots. Voila! Why don’t doctors tell this? Studies prove that consuming dark chocolate might even prevent hardening of the arteries, a condition known as arteriosclerosis.
Prevents Sun Damage
And you might be thinking of applying it. Yes, you can apply dark chocolate face masks available these days. You might not believe this but even consuming dark chocolates is good for your skin. Flavonols present in dark chocolate helps protect damage done by the sun. It improves the flow of blood to the skin and helps increase skin density as well as hydration.
Make Your Brain Function Well
The bottom line is that consuming dark chocolates helps in blood flow, be it skin, heart or even brain. Hence, it enhances the functioning of the brain. It might even prove beneficial in reducing the risk of stroke. Chemical compounds present in dark chocolate have a positive impact on the mood. No wonder, dark chocolates always boost my mood and make me feel happy.
Slow Down the Aging Process
Who would not love to look young? You might be surprised that dark chocolate will actually slow down the process of aging, thanks to the presence of antioxidants. Antioxidants rid your body of free radicals, the culprits that cause damage to the cells and make the skin look aged. Eating foods rich in antioxidants (for instance, dark chocolate) even helps in preventing different types of cancer.
Do Not Worry About Cavities
With every bite of ordinary sweet, the words of your dentist echo in your mind “Do not eat sweet, if you want your teeth to stay strong”. However, you can consume dark chocolate in peace. The presence of theobromine in dark chocolate hardens tooth enamel. And the good news is that you will not have to worry about cavities damaging your teeth. But wait, this does not mean that you skip dental hygiene. Other good news is that theobromine being a mild stimulant might help you with the cough as well.
Think About the Nutrition
Potassium, magnesium, copper, iron and other nutrients are present in dark chocolate. Copper and iron together help in forming healthy red blood cells. They even help in boosting the immune system. Magnesium helps in maintaining healthy bones. Even manganese is present in dark chocolate that is essential in so many ways for your body.
I have mentioned so many positive points of indulging in dark chocolate. However, these good things are present only in good dark chocolates. So, you need to choose wisely. If you purchase those that are high in sugar, you might end up on the wrong side. Opt for organic dark chocolates. Read the ingredients and make sure about the presence of cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and sugar. The other way of finding out about the goodness is to eat the dark chocolate and let it melt in your mouth. Unleash your darker side!