Chocolate: It’s good for you!
Often, when we think of chocolate, we think of pleasure, desire, decadence, and deliciousness. Still, we fail to indulge, resisting what we feel is the guilt of consuming “wasted calories” and a product that might be highly processed. But there’s great news: Restraint is futile! Chocolate, when chosen properly, and consumed in moderation, is good for you! Don’t believe me? Start with this NY Times quote from March regarding a study of the health benefits of chocolate:
“The people who ate chocolate the most frequently, despite eating more calories and exercising no differently from those who ate the least chocolate, tended to have lower BMI’s (Body Mass Indices).”
And that’s just part of the science. Cocoa, the plant-based food that makes chocolate what it is, comes loaded with flavonoids— the polyphenolic compounds with antioxidant abilities rivaling that of vitamins C and E. This means that chocolate joins my other favorite consumable in its ability to stave off cardiovascular disease and cancer….wine! Additional benefits of these antioxidants include the release of pleasure-inducing endorphins, and increased blood flow to the brain. So, you can also say that chocolate makes you smart too!
The health benefits for the educated chocolate consumer may outweigh the potential caloric intake, but notice the word “educated”. Don’t assume that you can just devour any old commercially-produced chocolate product and reap those aforementioned benefits. The key is cocoa, which milk chocolate is lower in (in addition to being much higher in milk fat, hence its name). Dark chocolate bars are what you’re after, particularly ones with a high cacao count (60% is a start, higher is better).
Chocolatiers Get Creative.
Coincidentally, artisan chocolate bars are having a renaissance right now, and I have immersed myself in the countless offerings available, commercially and locally. I can compare what I’m seeing to what has been happening with American beer in recent years….an onslaught of experimentation that propels the product far beyond the conventional expectations; with beer, it’s been a trend toward adding fun and unusual ingredients in addition to the 4 main components of water, yeast, malt and hops. With chocolate bars, in addition to cocoa, milk, sugar, and the occasional nut/dried fruit/caramel paradigm, we’re now seeing exotic additions of salt, cacao nibs, lavender, chili peppers, bacon, and various other savories, most of which are brilliantly executed.
So, you’re sold. You already love chocolate, and you’re prepared to let your guard down and indulge. Where do you go from here? How do you find the best product with the most health benefits, and more importantly, the one that tastes best to you? How do you even find out what the spectrum of options include? Well, once again, I did some homework for you, and had a delectable time in the process. I put together…..ready for this: a blind chocolate bar tasting! For the sake of simplification (and through the purist in me), my experiment included chocolate bar examples that are kickin’ it old school (ie: not the bacon bars), although the participants and I did have a little fun afterward by adding in our own savory components.
Our Favorite Confectioner.
The purveyor of the chocolate bars involved is David Bacco Chocolatier, a true artisan in small-production, ultra-high quality bars crafted in San Diego, CA, from organic, single-origin cacaos, with no preservatives. I included 5 different examples plus one commercially-produced ringer, breaking them up into somewhat uniform, bite-sized bits, and isolating them in numbered dishes, arranged by percent of cacao from lowest to highest (which leaves the most bitter examples to be tasted last). Six of us, each with different chocolate preferences/expectations took part, taking notes about the appearance, aroma, flavor, texture, length of finish, and overall quality/level of complexity of each chocolate. This proved to be trickier than anticipated….far more so than any wine blind tasting I’ve been involved in.
Chocolate #1: Madagascar 64%
Light-medium brown color, with cocoa-inspired fragrances resembling hops, malt, tree bark, leather, and pepper. There was an initial textural snap, giving way to a velvet, ganache-like feel as it melted on the palate. Flavors suggested caramel and espresso, with good length and moderate sweetness.
Chocolate #2: Bolivia 68%
Medium-dark brown. Subtly aromatic, showing citrus peel, cinnamon, bitter Amaro, pipe tobacco, and wood notes. The texture was firm, and the flavors were wild and unpredictable, including spice, lime, leather, and blue cheese. There even seemed to be acidity here. Very compelling. This was starting to feel like a wine tasting!
Chocolate #3: Sambirano 71%
Burnt sienna in color. We smelled cardamom, caramel, coffee, fig, prune, and Scotch whisky. It was pleasantly waxy in mouth feel, and then turned “fluffy” and light on its feet. Tasting of ash, PX Sherry, raisin, fig, dried cherry and tea tannin, this began to prove that terroir clearly shines through in single origin chocolate.
Chocolate #4: Elvesia 74% (Dominican Republic)
Medium brown. The bouquet included apricot, spicy sandalwood, and warm milk notes. Starting off tannic to the tongue, it grew velvety as it broke down between the teeth. We collectively found cocoa-derived tastes of earth, grass, nuts, bitter coffee, and dehydrated fruits. Sugar had now left the building. Even with all of this going on, this was judged the simplest, and beautiful as such.
Chocolate #5: Coeur de Guanaja 80%
Medium-dark brown. The nose revealed burnt dairy, raisin, raspberry, cold steel, and syrup. This had the firmest snap, and then the textures ultimately offered a rugged grit. Flavors were of Ceylon tea, whisky, bitter espresso, tobacco, tar, and fresh oak. With high acidity, and a lactic/rustic feel throughout, this was the down-and-dirty offering.
Chocolate #6: Lindt 85% (Ringer)
Dark brown to black. A whiff of espresso bean, stout beer, and bitter herbs proved fairly impressive for a commercial chocolate. The palate, which was tannic and powdery, exhibited more influences of dark beer, plus black tea, and dried black currants, with almost no trace of sugar. This fooled half of us.
Tasting (and later, consuming) contrasting artisanal dark chocolates revealed a hidden world of distinction and nuance that I had assumed was exclusive to wine and cheese. There was something for everybody, and nothing not to like. This grew even more fascinating as we began to taste, side-by-side with the chocolates, unlikely sweet/savory goodies including dried cherries, apricots, raw walnuts, salty almonds, prosciutto, spicy chorizo, bacon, blue cheese, and Cabernet Sauvignon! The palate possibilities are endless. Factor in the health benefits, and my arm need not be twisted to consume dark chocolate daily.
Give Mom A Healthy Gift This Mother’s Day.
And here comes ‘the advertisement‘* for this article: Treat yourself to some of this beautiful product, and gift your mother with your latest discovery in “health food” this Mother’s Day. Not only does Bacco produce these single-origin bars in-house, but he combines amazing flavors and textures to make gift boxes of individual bon bons. Check out his web site, and order now to impress Mom in 21st century style.
Think about the ultimate gift: have Goldie’s Table Matters facilitate a chocolate tasting for your next celebration or event.
*I’m not compensated in any way by David Bacco. I’m recommending these chocolates because I enjoy them personally, and have been a huge fan of David’s for years and years.