We love coffee. There's no this way or that about how much we love it. The only other thing that sort of prods our fancy as well is chocolate. For those who say they do not like chocolate, what we would like to say is, "Don't kid yourselves!" The chocolate affair is not something to mess around with, so let's dive in!
But over the years, and several kilos of additives and sugar later, chocolate has got a bad rep; from dental issues to weight gain, diabetes, and heart issues. After stress, chocolate seems to be the next biggest villain! But does it really deserve this bad name? Should you really stone your heart against this luscious dessert?
In this blog, we try to unearth the truth about chocolate, by which we mean we are going to give you a whole bunch of excuses to indulge in a chocolate treat - if not every day at least on World Chocolate Day - July 7th.
Of course, read till the very end to find out how much is too much chocolate and plan your dessert intake accordingly!
India's Tryst with Chocolate
Just like coffee, chocolate too is not native to India, but that does not stop our affair with chocolate. Today we have our own cocoa plantations and stores advertising homemade chocolates from home-grown cocoa beans. But this was not always the case. While Baba Budan smuggled coffee beans into India, the unassuming cocoa beans found their way into Indian soil with the British.
Theobroma cacao, a plant native to the tropics of Mesoamerica or modern-day Central and South America, produces chocolate. Spanish conquerors introduced chocolate to Europe after invading and bringing down the Aztec empire. Later, European colonisation and plantation slavery spread chocolate to the equatorial regions of Africa. And it was this same colonisation that brought the cacao beans to India.
Interestingly, the British used their colonies worldwide as agricultural bases for cocoa production, to cater to their chocolate cravings! The history of cocoa in India dates back to the late eighteenth century. Our country was still under British rule. That was when they brought the cacao seeds here.
While West African soils proved highly suitable for cocoa cultivation, the sensitive criollo varieties imported to Southern India did not grow well in our climate. However, these varieties can now be found in Sri Lanka.
Cocoa Agriculture in India
Overall, it was not until the 1960s that cocoa farming gained popularity in India. This was due to the launch of cocoa agriculture initiatives by Cadbury, supported by the World Bank and Kerala Agricultural University.
Additionally, these corporations and institutions realised that the warm forested regions in Southern India could be used for cacao cultivation. The Southwest and Northeast monsoons, along with a short dry season, made some parts of the south, such as Nagercoil, Courtallam, Tenkasi, Palani Hills, and Annamalai Hills (all in present-day Tamil Nadu), ideal for planting cacao.
Next, they taught local farmers about cocoa cultivation. They also conducted research and trials to identify high-yielding cocoa varieties. Today, most cocoa plants grown in India belong to the robust and more common forastero variety, which is found worldwide.
While Cadbury and Nestlé continue to be big names in the chocolate business, artisanal (independent) chocolate makers are making steady inroads in the business as well. They are focusing primarily on specific aspects of cultivation, to control the flavour of the beans. This eliminates dependence on artificial sweeteners or other additives that make chocolate unhealthy.
The Chocolate Affair: Cocoa or Cacao?
The terms "cacao" and "cocoa" are often used interchangeably. However, there are some differences between them based on context and usage.
- The tropical tree species known as Theobroma cacao is the source of cacao beans. The term "cacao" is commonly used to refer to the plant itself, its pods, and the beans found inside the pods.
- In some cases, "cacao" specifically refers to the unprocessed or minimally processed form of the beans. This includes raw cacao beans and cacao nibs, which are pieces of roasted and crushed cacao beans without added sugar or fat.
- The processed form of cacao beans is generally referred to as cocoa. This is the term commonly used for various cocoa-based products such as cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate.
- Cocoa undergoes processing, which typically involves roasting the beans, grinding them into a paste, and separating it into cocoa solids (powder) and cocoa butter. These components are then used to produce different forms of chocolate or added to various food and beverages
Are Coffee Beans and Cocoa Beans related?
Firstly, they are not beans! What we commonly refer to as beans are in fact seeds!
Not A Bean!
A coffee bean is technically a seed rather than a bean. It is the seed of the coffee plant, specifically the Coffea species. The coffee fruit or coffee cherry, contains two seeds within it. These seeds are commonly called coffee beans.
The seeds from the coffee cherry are processed, roasted, and ground to produce the coffee that we brew and consume. So, although we often refer to them as "beans", they are, in fact, the seeds of the coffee plant.
Likewise, the cacao beans are in fact seeds too! The cacao bean is the seed of the Theobroma cacao tree. The beans are found within the cacao fruit, also known as cacao pods.
After harvesting, the beans are typically fermented, dried, and roasted. Following this, cocoa powder, chocolate, and other cocoa-based products are produced. So, while we commonly refer to them as "cocoa beans," they are actually the seeds of the cacao tree.
But besides the misnomer and their respective global fan-following, coffee beans and cacao beans are not related!
Dark Chocolate: The Better Choice
While we do not encourage you to make chocolate the heart and soul of your diet, we do encourage a couple of pieces from time to time. There is no need to wipe it off your diet entirely. Having a bite of chocolate does have its benefits.
Dark Chocolate in particular, is often considered to have certain potential health benefits. Here are a few reasons why dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate:
#1 Higher cocoa content:
Dark chocolate generally has a higher percentage of cocoa than milk chocolate. Cocoa solids are rich in antioxidants, which are associated with potential health benefits. This includes reduced inflammation and improved heart health. Thus, dark chocolate can be a useful source of antioxidants.
#2 Lower sugar content:
Dark chocolate typically has less added sugar than milk chocolate. Most importantly, high sugar intake is linked to various health concerns, such as obesity and increased risk of chronic diseases. So, choosing dark chocolate with a higher cocoa content can help reduce overall sugar intake.
#3 Benefits to heart health:
Studies suggest that the antioxidants in dark chocolate can have positive effects on heart health. They may help improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, it is important to note that these potential benefits are linked with eating less quantity of dark chocolate.
#4 Lower milk content:
Milk chocolate contains milk solids or powdered milk, which adds extra fat and calories. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, often has little to no milk content. This makes it suitable for individuals with dairy allergies and for those who avoid dairy products. Additionally, the lower milk content in dark chocolate makes it a lower-calorie option than milk chocolate.
#5 Helps portion control:
People tend to eat smaller quantities of dark chocolate because of its intense, mildly bitter taste. This helps in controlling calorie intake.
Overall, dark chocolate can be a healthier choice than milk chocolate due to its higher cocoa content, lower sugar content, and potential benefits to the heart.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, when consumed in small quantities as part of a balanced diet, may offer many potential benefits. Here are some of the key benefits related to dark chocolate:
Dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants, such as flavonoids and polyphenols. These compounds help protect the body from cell and tissue damage. Therefore, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
2. Heart health:
Many studies suggest that the antioxidants in dark chocolate may have a positive impact on heart health. They may help improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and decrease the risk of heart diseases.
3. Improved mood:
Dark chocolate contains compounds that can stimulate the production of brain chemicals called endorphins. They promote feelings of pleasure and happiness. It also contains small amounts of a compound called phenylethylamine. This triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin; both are chemicals that improve your mood.
4. Cognitive function:
Components in dark chocolate have positive effects on cognitive function as well. They may help improve brain health, enhance memory, and focus. Therefore, dark chocolate helps reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders.
5. Nutrient content:
Dark chocolate contains essential minerals, such as iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. These minerals play important roles in various bodily functions, such as energy production, oxygen transport, and antioxidant defence.
6. Skin health:
The antioxidants in dark chocolate may benefit the skin by protecting against oxidative damage caused by environmental factors. Additionally, some studies say that dark chocolate may improve skin hydration, elasticity, and blood flow, resulting in a healthier complexion.
Overall, dark chocolate may offer several potential health benefits when consumed in the right amount. However, it is important to note that dark chocolate is still a calorie-dense food, so it is important to enjoy it in moderation.
What makes Coffee and Chocolate go so well together?
Coffee and chocolate are often enjoyed together because they complement each other in terms of taste and flavour profiles. Here are a few reasons why coffee and chocolate taste good together:
Coffee and chocolate share some similar flavour components, such as bitterness and richness. When had together, these flavours can create a harmonious taste experience. The bitterness of coffee can balance the sweetness of chocolate, while the richness of both enhances the overall flavour.
Contrast and complexity:
Coffee and chocolate when combined in the right proportions enhance the overall taste. The complex flavours of coffee, including notes of roasted nuts, caramel, or fruitiness, can interact with the diverse flavour profiles of different types of chocolate.
Both coffee and chocolate have distinctive and aromatic compounds that contribute to their flavours. The aroma of coffee complements and enhances the aroma of chocolate. Biting into a dessert with both components is a sensory experience like no other!
Shared cultural experience: Our affair with Chocolate
Coffee and chocolate have a long history of being consumed together. They have been paired together in various cultural traditions and popular dessert recipes. This shared cultural experience adds to the idea that they taste good together. People have come to accept this combination over time with open arms.
It is important to note that taste preferences can vary among individuals, and not everyone may enjoy the combination of coffee and chocolate. Additionally, the specific flavours and qualities of coffee and chocolate can differ based on their origins, roasting methods, and types of chocolate.
How much is too much chocolate?
As we are often told: Too much of anything is good for nothing! Sadly, it is the case with chocolate as well. All the benefits mentioned earlier amount to nothing when you excessively eat dark chocolate.
Excessive consumption of dark chocolate can cause digestive troubles, nausea, diarrhoea, headaches, and restlessness. Health experts say that you can have around 30-60 grams of dark chocolate per day. This is roughly equivalent to two to four small squares of your favourite chocolate bar. However, it is best to get a doctor’s opinion in the case of individuals with health issues like diabetes or high cholesterol.
Dark chocolate is not only a delicious treat, but it also contains valuable nutrients that can contribute to a healthy diet. Nevertheless, it is important to consume it in moderation due to its high calorie and saturated fat content. This means that dark chocolate should be part of a well-balanced eating plan and not the star of your meals! In the end, we all love to indulge in chocolate, the chocolate affair never ends!