Don’t you wish chocolate grew on trees?

Good news…  it does! Theobroma cacao, Greek for “food of the gods” is the chocolate tree.

About 15 years ago, I visited Tobago (one of the Caribbean Islands of Trinidad and Tobago) and came across a cacao bean farm. The fruit trees had large yellowish-red pods, about the size of a small football. Our guide opened a pod to expose a juicy white pulp containing the famous cacao beans arranged like corn-on-the-cob. After processing, these beans provide the heavenly food we call chocolate. As if that wasn’t enough, I learned that the white pulp of the pod could also be eaten (and it tasted sweet and delicious)… just when I thought chocolate couldn’t get any better.

After cacao beans are harvested, they are fermented and dried then roasted to remove moisture and develop flavour. Pyrazines are flavour compounds that develop with this fermentation and roasting process and is considered a critical component of what we eventually call chocolate. Beans that have been winnowed, the process of removing the outer husk, are subsequently referred to as cocoa beans or nibs.

Maybe you’ve heard that chocolate is good for you. Let’s first clarify what we mean by “chocolate.”

You may already know that cocoa is dense in nutrients but at the same time you won’t hear doctors recommending you eat a Snickers bar whenever you’re feeling hungry (despite what the candy bar commercials tell you). It’s important to differentiate between a high quality chocolate bar and a mass-produced candy bar that happens to include some cocoa.

Quality chocolate is the combination of cocoa with, at least, sugar and cocoa butter. The cocoa is the main source of beneficial nutrients (and flavour, in my opinion!) so I recommend choosing chocolate with higher cocoa content (ie. 60% or higher) as much as possible. Higher the cocoa percentage, the greater the nutritional benefit.

 

Cocoa contains iron (important for energy), magnesium (for proper muscle function, glucose metabolism, bone health and more) and the antioxidant selenium (1). Dark chocolate has been shown to improve mood, energy and even improve cholesterol levels (2,3). Given its complex flavors/aromas, beautiful rich colour/texture and mood-enhancing effects – it’s no wonder chocolate has become a favourite treat to gift on Valentines.

A healthy body doesn’t exist in isolation from its community and environment.

Many of us probably grew up with the industrialized version of chocolate which I would perhaps more accurately call a candy bar. These bars are manufactured at scale to optimize for profit at the cost of quality and sustainability. Mass produced candy bars are predominantly made of sugar and can contain ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours and colours – and very little cocoa. To make matters worse, to keep costs low, the cocoa often comes from economically and ecologically unsustainable sources.

Our Choices Matter

With chocolate, as with all food, it’s important to be intentional about what we choose to buy and eat. Quality matters but it’s not just about getting the most nutritious chocolate (as most of us aren’t eating chocolate for its nutritional benefits) and it isn’t simply to avoid undesirable ingredients either. Where our food is sourced, how it’s handled, prepared, and packaged all have far reaching socio economic and environmental impacts. A healthy body doesn’t exist in isolation from its community and environment.

That’s why I’m thrilled with the Bean to Bar movement. Similar to the trend we are seeing with traditionally made artisanal bread and cheese, there’s a movement to elevate the standard of chocolate by enhancing every step from carefully selecting the source of the beans and roasting beans in small batches to molding the chocolate. I’m so grateful there are passionate leaders in the Bean to Bar movement right here in our community! Because of them we not only enjoy the “food of the gods” but also preserve the incredible properties of this plant for generations.

Right here, in Richmond, BC (5 minutes away from our office!), the Bean to Bar chocolatiers at Wild Sweets combine the art and science of chocolate. Their passion and creativity is obvious in everything they do – check out these unique creations! If you’re looking for a sweet and stunning Valentines gift, how about the CocoArt Heart Collection? Also look out for their new 2019 Lunar New Year collection coming soon!

Wishing you a Valentines Day celebrating the sweet things in our lives!

In health,
Dr. Carin