Does eating chocolate improve our health?

Certainly the medical profession right up until the early 20th century thought so. Soon after it’s introduction into Europe in the 16th century, the local medicos there agreed that chocolate had wondrous medicinal properties. It was thought to be a panacea for chest and stomach ailments and fevers, so it was added to purgatives, cough mixtures, digestion aids, antispasmodics, anti- inflammatories and assorted other tonics. Best of all, it was once used as an aphrodisiac as well. What a pity none of this has been proven to be correct!  Nevertheless, it’s still one of our best creations yet.

HOW IS IT MADE?

The cacao tree, from which chocolate is derived, is native to Mexico and South America and has been cultivated there to make chocolate as far back as around 1200 BC. Africa is the leading producer of chocolate now. Processing the beans to become the high quality chocolate that we love is a very complex and sophisticated procedure, with different countries using different methods such as piling the beans on the ground, covered in leaves for 5 days, or putting them in boxes or baskets for up to 8 days. The bean pods of the tree, known as either cacao and cocoa beans, grow to about 20cm long and 500g in weight. Each pod contains about 20 – 40 cocoa beans. The beans are intensely bitter, so must be fermented to  develop the flavour. After fermenting, the beans are dried and cleaned. They are then separated from the shells, then roasted, then ground to produce a liquid, which is pressed to give cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The butter goes to make chocolate and the solids are pulverised to make cocoa powder, which we use for cooking and drinks. The cocoa butter is used in varying proportions, along with the possible addition of vegetable oils, sugar and milk products to make different qualities and flavours of chocolate from dark to milk to white. Technically though, white chocolate isn’t actually chocolate because it doesn’t contain any cocoa solids or liquor, just a little cocoa butter.

IT’S HARD TO BEAT IT

There has to be only a hardy minority who don’t like chocolate. Chocolate has evolved over the years to bring it up to the amazing quality we have today. Because we love chocolate so much, it’s one of the easiest gifts to give to someone. Nobody will say no to a beautiful box of chocolates. There can’t be a child who doesn’t love a chocolate milkshake or would choose a different ice cream flavour over chocolate.

Theobroma Cacao (the Greek name for chocolate), means ‘food of the gods’ Check out my video for a luscious chocolate lava cakes recipe. Food styling by Wendy Berecry.  Filmed by Nadine Shaw: