When chocolate first entered the mainstream global market from the boats of the Spanish, it took the world only a century before chocolate was being served in cafes and occupying the minds of children walking past candy shops. However, while in today’s society chocolate is iterated in forms ranging from puddings, cereals and candy bars, there is one form of chocolate that is often overlooked and overshadowed by its sweeter and more popular peers – dark chocolate.
That isn’t to say that dark chocolate is a bad chocolate – quite the contrary actually. Dark chocolate contains many positive benefits and has a long history of being consumed before being ousted by its sweetened siblings. Though what usually puts people off from trying is its signature bitter taste and strong flavours. However, just like how a child learns to love broccoli your palate can be convinced to love the earthy flavours of dark chocolate, and with a better understanding of what’s so good about it, you might be a better convinced to give it a try!
When trying to differentiate chocolate, the first thing you should always take note of is how the different amounts of ingredients collaborate to create different types of chocolate. Just like how Lattes, Americanos, and Espressos are made from using different amounts of milk, coffee and water, different types of chocolate are made by using different amounts of cocoa (which is roasted cacao/kakao seeds), milk and sugar. Other variants include ingredients such as caramel, fruits, and nuts.
Dark chocolate has a much lower percentage of sugar and milk than regular chocolate, if any at all. This makes it a much better option against regular chocolate and gives it a more full-bodied and robust flavour. But its real value comes from its health and beauty benefits. For health benefits, dark chocolate is a good source of anti-oxidants, which fight off cancer-causing free radicals in your food. Dark chocolate also reduces your risk factor for heart disease by lowering your low-density lipoprotein count (the bad kind of cholesterol) and reducing your insulin resistance. Dark chocolate also improves your blood circulation, increasing neurological function.
On the beauty side of things, dark chocolate just so happens to almost perfectly counter one of beauty’s greatest nemeses – stress. Stress, as we’ve all come to familiarise ourselves with, prevents your skin cells from regenerating naturally, and chocolate helps to reduce these stress hormones. Anyone who disagrees should imagine munching on a luscious piece of rich, velvety smooth chocolate as it slowly melts and coats your tongue. If that image hasn’t reduced your stress even by a little bit, you might not be a chocolate person! Besides helping your skin regenerate, dark chocolate contains flavanols, which help protect your skin against UV damage and conditions like sunburn. Also, remember how dark chocolate helps blood circulation? This circulation helps with your scalp, which ultimately improves your hair growth and health while reducing hair loss.
When selecting your dark chocolate, the first thing you should always consider is the amount of Cocoa in it. The magic number to look for is 70%, as any higher might be a little too bitter for your palate (percentages above 85% cocoa are usually used for cooking and baking), but If you find that your tongue is digging the bitter taste you can always try going for higher percentages. There are some who would just add pure baking chocolate with a bowl of fruit to make a tangy, rich, after-dinner dessert.
Once you’ve located the “above 70% club”, you should definitely consider taste, because many are often taken by surprise by how bitter dark chocolate can be. This of course is completely natural for someone who has been eating sweetened candy bars for all their life. It might take a little time to ease yourself into the habit of eating dark chocolate, but once your taste buds get used to it, you might see yourself buying more and more dark chocolate as the days go by. If you find yourself put off at first, consider easing yourself in with dark chocolate bars mixed with fruits and nuts before trying the purer varieties.
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Finally you should consider the portion of chocolate that you consume every day. Even though it’s good for you, dark chocolate – like everything else in life – should be taken in moderation. The recommended amount by many is a 1-ounce square piece a day (about 30 grams). Of course to many this might seem a little anti-climatic – all that trouble to switch, and only one or two pieces a day! Ironically, that’s also another reason why dark chocolate is so well received – it is supremely satisfying. Unlike milk chocolate, it doesn’t contain high amounts of sugar, preventing you from getting that “one-more-piece” craving you normally get when other chocolates. It doesn’t encourage you to eat more after having a piece, while still hitting all the right spots with rich chocolatey indulgence.
So whether you consider yourself a chocoholic, or just would like to try something new, consider grabbing a bar of dark chocolate on your next grocery trip. Just be mindful that you’re buying what many consider a fine wine – you need to train your palate to appreciate dark chocolate (especially if this is your first time). With that said, the beauty and health benefits definitely make this a worthwhile switch, and you can feel good about yourself and satisfying those chocolate cravings!