Cocoa, from which chocolate is created, is said to have originated in the Amazon at least 4,000 years ago.
In the beginning chocolate was never sweet as we know it. Called xocolatl, drinks were bitter, frothy and spicy, seasoned with vanilla, chillies or achiote.
The Aztecs were the first to use chocolate as an aphrodisiac.
Chocolate has been nicknamed the “food of gods” and “dark gold”.
The most prestigious tribute to “dark gold” is found in the New England Journal of Medicine which based on a study states that the higher a country’s chocolate consumption, the more Nobel laureates it spawns per capita.
Darker the Chocolate the Better
Cocoa trees produce pods which is the fruit chocolate is derived from.
Chocolate beans/nibs are heated – roasting the beans is important to eliminate pathogens. High temperature results in separation of cocoa butter. Also called theobroma oil, cocoa butter is a pale-yellow, pure, edible vegetable fat.
Dark chocolate is healthy. Few know it is vegan: chocolate liquor solidified with cocoa butter without added sugar.
It contains polyphenolic compounds called flavonoids known for health benefits like antioxidant activity, preventing oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol, anti-cancer effects, lowering blood pressure and inhibition of platelet activity and inflammation. Apart from having stress-busting effects, chocolate also improves immunity. It also provides magnesium which is good for bones and helps control food cravings.
Chocolate elevates a person’s mood since it contains caffeine, fat and phenyl-ethylamine associated with endorphin release. Its consumption also increases the release of serotonin and endorphins into the body which together produce a relaxing and euphoric feeling. Dark chocolate has successfully helped people stop smoking.
Cocoa powder and dark chocolate are much the same. Cocoa beans are powdered and the heat generated melts the cocoa butter. The resulting suspension, chocolate liquor, is dried to make cocoa powder. A study undertaken at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centre, USA, states “Cocoa can protect nerves from injury and inflammation, protect the skin from oxidative damage from UV radiation… and have beneficial effects on satiety, cognitive function, and mood.”
Chocolate liquor used in drinks and chocolate flavoured products like candy, is sweet syrup of chocolate and sugar – without alcohol. It can be processed in different ways with or without cocoa butter, sugar and milk. The combination resulting in milk chocolate is harmful as opposed to cocoa butter which is a natural vegetable fat and does not increase cholesterol.
Chocolate turns non-vegetarian when animal fats, gelatine, egg white, shellac, colours & additives of animal origin, and whey (produced using animal rennet) are used as ingredients. Labels should therefore be checked for these substances. For example, some chocolates contain dual-origin emulsifiers like E322 (lecithin can be derived from plant/soy and egg) and E476 (polyglycerol polyricinoleate contains glycerol and fatty acids which can be of animal or non-animal/castor bean origin).
In May 2007 it was revealed that some of UK’s best-selling chocolate bars such as Mars, Twix, Snickers, Maltesers, Bounty, Minstrels, and all Milky Way products, along with ice-cream versions of these chocolates, were no longer suitable for vegetarians because of whey derived from animal rennet used as an ingredient. We do not know whether it continues to be utilised so ingredient labels should be checked.
Similarly, BWC was informed that whey powder was listed as an ingredient on a box of imported Rochero Ferroro chocolates marked with the green veg symbol. The chocolates had been manufactured in Italy so it was more likely than not that the whey used had been derived through cheese-making with calf rennet. BWC complained to the authorities that the chocolates should have been marked with the brown non-veg symbol, but they continue to be marked with the green veg symbol. The company obviously has no respect for Indian laws or consumers because on one of their recent products both veg and non-veg symbols have been affixed making BWC complain about it to the Food and Drug Administration.
Belgian chocolates are available in a wide range of fillings and flavours. Some can include direct non-veg items such as bacon. Also chocolate-covered bacon is an American dish.
Globally chocolate with beef flavouring is also sold.
After the UN-FAO recommended entomophagy in 2013, chocolate covered insects were tried out by people who traditionally did not eat insects. Some chocolates, like those containing grasshoppers, may take on the shape of the insect covered, but most like those that contain ants look just like other chocolates.
Teetotallers should beware of chocolates containing vodka, gin, brandy, whisky, etc. Alcohol is some times added to chocolates laced with spices such as chilli and cardamom, to impart unique flavours.
Conclusion: check list of ingredients before consuming.