By contributing author, Lauren Woodbridge
Cacao plants or “food of the gods”, were originally found in the tropical rainforests of Central America, as early as 1900 B.C., by Mesoamericans. Hanging from this plant are small fruit pods containing about 40 soft cocoa beans in various shades of purple. The beans are fermented, dried, cleaned, roasted and shelled to make nibs. Those nibs are then crushed, ground and subjected to high pressure to separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder. Before eating cocoa was considered, the nibs would often be ground into a paste and blended with vanilla, honey, chili peppers and other spices for a chocolate beverage. The Mayans saved chocolate for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles, believing it had mystical and spiritual powers. It forever remained a symbol of luxury, wealth and power.
In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press, which could separate cocoa butter from the beans, making edible confectionary chocolate possible and then affordable for the world.
In 1847, British company J.S. Fry & Sons created the first chocolate bar with cocoa butter, cocoa powder and sugar.
Fast forward to 2018! There is an endless list of chocolate candies on the market today, but to get the most out of your treat, stick to 1-2 ounces of at least 70% dark chocolate. The higher percentage the more benefits!
Cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids (plant nutrients) that have expressed anti-viral, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antioxidant properties. These powerful compounds may reduce age-related cognitive degeneration, help lower blood pressure, boost good cholesterol (HDL) and protect against early stages of diabetes.
Although dark chocolate is considered an indulgent treat with calories and fat, it is also rich in numerous essential minerals. A few to note are manganese, magnesium, copper and iron. Manganese is important for metabolism, calcium absorption and hormone regulation. Iron is required for healthy blood production and flow. Magnesium is great for improved sleep and gut health. And Copper helps the body to form collagen, absorb iron and increase energy levels.
Along with a bit of caffeine, chocolate may improve mood and increase energy by stimulating pleasure (endorphins) and happy (serotonin) chemicals in the brain. It is also proven to reduce stress by increasing levels of anandamide, a lipid that helps your brain to relax.
Between the mental, physical and emotional benefits, dark chocolate can definitely be part of a healthy diet. As if we needed another reason to eat chocolate – Now go find some!
Dark Chocolate Trail Mix Bites
Recipe originally created by Chef Kendra Peterson for Enjoy Life Foods
- 1 bag Enjoy Life Foods Dark Chocolate Morsels or 2 dark chocolate bars
- 1 tsp. flavorless oil such as grapeseed or sunflower
- assorted toppings such as banana chips, hemp seeds, favorite trail mix, toasted crushed nuts or seeds, dried cherries, hemp seeds, chia seeds
- Melt the chocolate chips with the 1 tsp. oil either over a double boiler or in the microwave at 30 second intervals.
- Cool for 15-20 minutes.
- While the chocolate is cooling line 2 sheet trays with parchment or wax paper, making sure they are totally flat. Also, gather your topping ingredients and break anything large into smaller pieces about the size of an almond or a dried cherry.
- Spoon a hearty tablespoon of the chocolate onto your prepared trays and, using the back of the spoon, form into small circles. Press your toppings into the chocolate. Continue with remaining chocolate.
- Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes to set. Carefully remove from the paper and place in a sealed container or resealable plastic bag and store in the fridge until ready to enjoy!