I’m devoting a whole post to chocolate. That’s how strongly I feel about it. The great Spring celebrations of Passover and Easter are coming up and it is time to think about festive foods.
In our house we take our chocolate seriously. You might even say we are chocolate snobs. Our snobbery has been fostered by two things: our affinity for France, and our pursuit of fine organic foods.
For my daughter’s graduation from high school, I took her to France. We wanted economical flights and lodging, and so we went during the drizzly spring break. We arrived shortly before Easter Sunday only to find the southern French countryside greened, blooming and decorated.
It turns out that in France, Easter is a bigger communal holiday than Christmas. Every storefront was beautifully decorated. The bakeries, pastry shops and chocolate shops were full of dazzling creations - figures of every sort, made in bread or chocolate, then festooned with sugar formations and woven ribbons. Chocolate was absolutely central to the Easter celebrations, and we saw chocolate like we had never seen before.
Now we make our own creations at home. We feel fortunate if we just get it tempered correctly. To make our own, we have had to learn all about it. We have learned about the equatorial, often war torn regions where it grows, and we have learned about the farming and labor practices entailed in chocolate production. We have learned that to get organic chocolate, we pay more, but that the workers involved get a better wage, and the land is left unpolluted.
It turns out that these days, westerners like us have come to recognize the value of country specific cocoa beans. When I attended one chocolate tasting demonstration, even I could tell the difference in the tastes.
But what about health ? Could all the health claims about chocolate be true ? As always, the devil is in the details. Healthfulness is compromised when lots of milk fat and sugar are added and when the chocolate is overly processed, (i.e. Dutch or alkali processed). It turns out chocolate needs to be appreciated almost like coffee beans, in its dark, somewhat bitter form, and certainly with its own fat, cocoa butter, which has its own health benefits.
According to the clevelandclinic.org, cocoa beans confer healthfulness via the following compounds they contain: flavonoids, antioxidants, and flavanols. These potent compounds combat oxidative stress. This means they neutralize damaging compounds called free radicals which may accumulate the body. They can also, by various mechanisms, favorably impact lipids, lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow.
Current recommendations provide for taking about 1 ounce of dark chocolate a few times per week. At my office, we always keep some on hand, “ for medicinal purposes only” : ) .
Stay tuned for more holiday food info next week on Food Friday.