Nobody doesn’t like chocolate in some form, as we’ve seen from our wildly popular chocolate chip cookies at The Bunnery. As research turns up a growing list of chocolate’s positive attributes, it made sense to look for the perfect way to incorporate chocolate into a new Bunnery Natural Foods product. Our tasting panel of chocoholics were tough critics, but we finally won them over with Double Chocolate Pancake & Waffle Mix, made with minimally processed Caillebaut dark chocolate chips and based on our original O.S.M. recipe. The nutty, toasty goodness of oats, sunflower seeds and millet blends deliciously with chocolate chips and a dusting of cocoa. Why limit them to breakfast? With a scoop of ice cream, they look like dessert to us.
The cocoa tree is native to South America,
and the beans were an integral part of Mayan culture, often used as currency and only consumed when worn out. Ground and mixed with water and spices, cocoa beans served as the base of a ritual betrothal and marriage drink, ever since linking chocolate to love. After their conquest of the native peoples of the New World, the Spanish maintained a monopoly on cocoa for nearly a century until the early 1600s. Cocoa and chocolate in endless forms soon grew to be appreciated the world over.
The cocoa tree grows
from a seedling that will only produce fruit in its fourth or fifth year. A fragile plant, it develops white to pink blossoms of which just three to ten percent eventually mature to elongated oval pods containing cocoa beans. In the continuous growing season of the tropics, harvest goes on year round as the pods ripen. Snipped from the tree with a long steel cutter, the pods are broken to release up to fifty creamy white beans from the pod’s fibrous inner membrane. When piled together and covered with mats, the beans ferment spontaneously, a process lasting from three to nine days that eliminates bitterness and converts sugar to acid. This allows roasting to bring forth chocolate’s characteristic flavor. Before shipping, the beans are dried for several days to prevent deterioration, losing half their weight. It takes roughly 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate.
Flavonoids are protective antioxidant compounds
that shield plants from environmental toxins and repair damage. When consumed, these plant compounds act as dietary antioxidants that prevent damage and inflammation from free radicals and formation of increased LDL cholesterol. These, respectively, can lead to cancer and arterial disease. Flavanols are a class of flavonoid present in cocoa and chocolate that also lowers blood pressure, improves circulation and lowers cholesterol. Flavanols also lend cocoa its pungent taste, but are reduced depending on the degree of processing the cocoa undergoes to yield the final chocolate product. Dark chocolate and non-Dutch processed cocoa preserve the highest flavonol content.
Cocoa butter consists of equal parts
oleic acid, the beneficial monounsaturated fat also present in olive oil, stearic acid and palmitic acid. Oleic acid raises HDL cholesterol, and although stearic and palmitic acids are saturated fats, they have little or no effect on cholesterol. Theobromide, a major component in cocoa, has been shown to prevent tooth decay by killing an oral bacteria called streptococcus mutans. More than any other plant, cocoa is also high in magnesium, a mineral that regulates digestion, cardiovascular health and neurological functions. This may be linked to a chemical in chocolate called epicatechin, that has been found to improve memory and shield the brain from stroke damage. Finally, chocolate’s reputation as a comfort food is no myth: it stimulates production of endorphins, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of happiness and pleasure, and also contains serotonin, a natural anti-depressant.