These few facts about chocolate (updates added Jan 2012) will help you understand why some chocolates are bad for you and why the really good chocolates are worth having. There are a lot of choices out there. Chocolate makers are tooting their horns but not all statements should be believed. Read the following and determine for yourself which chocolates you want to buy.
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Let's Look At Some Definitions
There are three names relating to chocolate. Here are the definitions I will be using in this article so you know what I am talking about and which will help you determine what chocolate is good and what is not so good.
Chocolate: A combination of ingredients processed in such a way to form an edible food that people love.
Cacao: A bean that is used to make chocolate products.
Cocoa: Another name for the cacao bean. It is also used as a name for a chocolate powder made from the cacao bean put out by Hershey.
To give you a clearer idea of the facts about chocolate, I will use the word "cacao" to refer to the actual raw bean and and use the word "cocoa" when referring to processed ingredients. Chocolate is used as the actual final processed product you eat like a candy bar.
Facts About Chocolate - Fundamental
Chocolate is a great tasting food made from the cacao bean.
It is not nutritionally the same from product to product. The growing, harvesting, and manufacturing processes determine the actual nutritional value.
Chocolate can be made using the roasted bean or the raw bean.
Theobromine, a chemical compound in the cacao bean, changes it's properties when heated during processing. The following is information related to Theobromine found in the raw cacao beans.
is an effective anti-bacterial substance.
kills streptococci mutans (the primary organism that causes cavities).
dilates the cardiovascular system reducing stress on the heart.
contains the richest concentration of antioxidants (of known foods) which support the immune system.
Facts About Chocolate - Warnings
Most cacao bean skins contain bacteria and fungi.
Never eat the skins of raw cacao beans unless certified that they do not contain bacteria and fungi. Here is a video that shows the actual stages the cacao beans go through to becoming the chocolate delight we all have craved. Take note of the fermentation process.
For commercial chocolate, the cacao beans are put through extreme heat and chemical procedures after the fermentation process.
In raw cacao bean production, extreme heat and chemicals are not used. You can see why the skins might remain contaminated with microbes if the fermentation process is performed.
The fermentation process is usually performed at a temperature that encourages bacteria growth. If the beans are not cleaned with some sort of chemical, and heated under extreme temperature, the beans would continue to hang on to some possibly bad microbes.
So, please take heed - don't eat the skins on raw whole cacao beans unless there is a certification that says there are no bad microbes present.
Some chocolate products contain lead.
How could this happen? I have gathered a few facts about chocolate's link to lead so you can evaluate this statement for yourself. Look at Wikipedia - Chocolate If you scroll down to the section on "Lead" it tells about lead not actually being found in the bean itself but on the "shell.
(I am assuming the shell and the skin are the same thing since the only other thing around the cacao bean is the fruit pulp. That is cleaned away before roasting but the skin is often left on until after the roasting process.)
To be on the safe side, I recommend buying chocolate or cocoa powder only from sources that disclose information about their manufacturing process in relation to the skins or lead content. As I come across other information on this subject, I'll update this article.
Note: Lead is a poison and when the body is exposed, it is not easily eliminated. It is not something to take lightly. It can negatively affect the brain, the nervous system, circulatory system, skeletal... actually anywhere you find good minerals, lead can move in and destroy.
Because my finding lead free certification of raw cacao, this leads me to concur with my findings last year...
Here's what I found - this is not new data but hard-to-find old data. I found a good source of this information floating around the Internet about "lead in chocolate" - here's the link. But be prepared to register to read article - it is free though.
Prior to reading the above article, there seemed to be more blame being placed on leaded gasoline in countries that grew cacao. The story being, the fruit pod of the plant seemed to take in the fumes of lead which contaminated the bean during processing. There's more to the story which was brought out in the above referenced article.
Their conclusion indicates the accumulation of lead throughout the growing process is less than the accumulation of lead after leaving the cacao farms.
The transporting of the cacao beans to the manufacturing facility, and the actual processing indicates an accumulation of higher concentrations of lead.
There were reports of lead contamination even in the high quality Dagoba chocolates in 2006. But, I haven't seen any claims since.
According to the FDA's "Supporting Document for Recommended Maximum Level for Lead in Candy Likely To Be Consumed Frequently by Small Children" -November 2006 [Docket No. 2005D-0481]
"The purpose of this document is to further present the background and rationale for FDA's recommended maximum lead level in candy likely to be consumed frequently by small children. The 0.1 parts per million (ppm) recommended maximum lead level in candy described herein is included as a part of the 2006 updated FDA guidance on lead in candy entitled "Lead in Candy Likely To Be Frequently Consumed by Small Children: Recommended Maximum Level and Enforcement Policy." FDA considers the recommended maximum lead level to be achievable and to be protective of public heath."
This is a step in the right direction. It use to be 0.5 parts per million (ppm) as the recommended maximum lead level - there's more to this so read the full document by searching for the Docket No. or title above, if you are interested.
Facts About Chocolate - Ethical Labor Issues
There are millions of cacao farms in the world where the multitude of chocolate manufactures are responsible for good or bad labor conditions, either directly or indirectly.
Last year I wrote about Cadbury's ethical side moving over to fair trade chocolate.
"Here's a bright side to ethical labor issues. The Cadbury Chocolate company in the United Kingdom has made a commitment to apply fair trade in Ghana. The following video will tell the story. I am sorry to say, I have not run into the good news for us here in the United States. If Hershey is making headway as promised a few years ago, I haven't found it."
This year, there seems to be a different story, and the video I found seems to have disappeared. Here' a story from New Zealand shedding some light on Cadbury.
I highly recommend you leave "Facts About Chocolate" for a few minutes, and click the link below to learn more about the great chocolate companies who seem to be dragging their feet in supporting fair trade. Hershey, Mars and Nestle are on this list.
At the end of the article, you discover the companies who should be supported with your dollar. This article is well worth your time if you want to support fair trade and human rights.
And here is a major chocolate player that actually participates in fair trade for chocolate and coffee and more. If you are currently supporting the wrong chocolate company, you might look at Equal Exchange.
I prefer my chocolate without sugar, even the best sugar, so I make my chocolate treats. Here's the recipe for my Chocolate Delight.
Facts About Chocolate - My Personal Experience
I gave up eating chocolate many, many years ago. Then I began hearing that it was good for you. I didn't believe it. I didn't want to even try it to see if it was really true.
I became involved with a Network Marketing company that began selling an organic chocolate candy. Very pricie but their marketing finally got to me. That candy was so good! I didn't want to stop eating just one or two a day. When I got up to eating four, I decided that was it, I couldn't afford it and it must be addictive.
I have since found raw chocolate and there is a difference. The organic chocolate candy I was eating was heated and had sugar in it. Good quality sugar, but still sugar.
I know sugar can be addictive, so I have to conclude that it was the sugar, not the chocolate, that caused me to eat so many pieces. I also know I am getting more nutrition from what I now eat.
I eat about 3 oz of my healthy chocolate treats a day and that seems to be enough. (That's not 3 oz of actual cacao, it's a combination of very healthy ingredients.) I don't tend to crave it throughout the day. But I do usually eat it daily as it's a very healthy food and very uplifting.
You'll find more about my experience with chocolate by clicking on the links below. Also, to stay up to date with "Facts About Chocolate" and other articles on this site, I invite you to subscribe to our RSS Feed or receive email notifications by using our Blog Signup Form.
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