Several weeks ago I took a chocolate tasting class taught by my friend, chocolatier and author, Annmarie Kostyk. I didn’t really know what to expect exactly, but I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I actually learned about eating chocolate for good health. I just have to share it here with all of you!
I arrived at Le Flour, a quaint French-inspired corner bakery and cafe located on N.Olmsted in Chicago. I’d been there before when the bakery hosted a book-signing for the author and now teacher of our Chocolate Tasting class. Although the place was closing for the night, they still had an excellent selection of vegetable pies, fruit pastries and tarts. I couldn’t resist trying a spinach, egg and vegetable pastry just to pass the time before the class began.
With just four other students, all ladies, we sat down to an intimate table with individual bags full of chocolate and the latest book produced by our instructor called, The Chocolate Lovers’ Guide and Tasting Journal, of which 100% of profits benefit the UN World Food Programme.
She began the class by explaining what a cocoa pod looks like, where in the world it grows and the difficult process of extracting chocolate from the delicate and valuable cocoa pod. We were told what to look for in our tasting of three different bars of chocolate- different in their quality of ingredients and level of choclate and sugar content.
First, we talked about setting the mood for tasting chocolate- spending time to really savor the flavor and texture of each bar so we could tell the difference in quality and ingredients. Once we actually tasted the different bars, we knew what to look for, but the fact that chocolate has over 500 flavor components didn’t exactly help narrow it down!
Chocolate that is smooth or gritty is actually of higher quality; ones with a creamy or waxy texture are of lower quality in that they’ve most likely had oil added to them. Once we reached the bar with 85% chocolate, we were at perhaps the most bitter of flavors, but the best quality and a taste one can aquire an appreciation for over time- especially after realizing the health benefits that come along with this amount of real, dark chocolate content.
We entered into a discussion about the health benefits of dark chocolate (at least 70% dark cocoa solids and unsweetened cooca powder) where I learned some stunning facts:
- cocoa plants are some of the most highly-pesticized plants in the world (along with coffee plants) because of their high susceptibility to insect infestation. There are some great organic products around today who take great care to make sure their bars are produced from organic and fair trade pods only (see below).
- dark chocolate contains many antioxidants, in fact, the concentration of flavinoids in dark chocolate greatly exceeds what you’ll find in most fruits and vegetables
- dark chocolate is naturally high in magnesium, a substance that helps to lessen menstrual cramps, increase flexibility, helps in bone formation, increases brain activity and aids digestion- just a few of the many things magnesium does for the body
- the darker the chocolate, the more polyphenols present- these little guys help promote healthy aging, naturally.
- flavonols in chocolate help promote blood flow to the brain- in essence, that’s why chocolate (pure chocolate) makes you feel good.
You can read more about the health benefits of dark chocolate, which gives the highest amount of chocolate solids in a bar and possesses the lowest percentage of both fat and sugar, in Annmarie’s book. In it she also discusses the use of chocolate as preventative medicine and gives recipes that help you incorporate it into your regular diet.
For now, you can do what I did and make this super easy, very quick snack just to get you started. I learned about it in the class when she told us that people in France actually have this as an afternoon or after-school snack- and they’re a country with far less heart disease and obesity than us. I guess they know chocolate…
Annmarie Kostyk is the author of Chocolate is Healthy! Myths, Truths and Delicious Recipes, as well as a food writer and blogger. Check out her blogs: Art of Eating and The Cocoa Pod.
- 2 slices of thick, rustic bread (Italian or French) to hold and soak up the melting chocolate
- ½ bar (75g or 2.5 oz) of dark chocolate that is 70% or more chocolate
- Heat oven to 350°
- Cut bread in half to open the inside. Select how large a slice you want and butter it.
- Cut the chocolate into squares and add the amount of chocolate pieces you want directly on top of the butter (3 pieces should be sufficient- remember it will be melting all over the bread)
- Place the bread, chocolate side up, on a sheet pan directly into the hot oven. Bake for 5 minutes, watching carefully. Do not let the chocolate bubble. Remove once you see that all of the chocolate has melted.
- Serve with a glass of warm milk on a cold afternoon- nothing will make you happier!
Chocolate Bar Recommendations & A Bit About Chocolate Liquor:Chocolate liquor is another name for the liquid paste that is produced when cocoa beans are roasted and ground, which is the basis for all chocolate products. It does not contain any alcohol at all, so when you see the name “chocolate liquor” on a label, it does not indicate the presence of alcohol. However, you must always check labels for the addition of other types of alcohol in chocolate products. For example, some of the most common additions are: wine, rum, and brandy.
- Green and Black Organics– I personally recommend this brand for the Chocolate Bread Snack recipe (above)
- Askinosie– sells bars of chocolate only; highly recommended by chocolatiers
- Lang’s Dark Chocolates (certified halal)
- Dagoba Organic Chocolate– great for hot chocolate
- Chocolate Santander– sells both chocolate and coffee
- Scharffen Berger– excellent chocolate for baking (and eating, too!)
- Theo– sold at Whole Foods; they have factory tours in Seattle, WA
- World Market– try their dark chocolate with pomegranate
- Trader Joe’s– a wonderful selection of inexpensive, dark chocolates at very reasonable prices